Millions of student loan borrowers cheered in August when President Biden announced a plan to cancel up to $20,000 in college debt. Most people with student loans were eligible. Applications were quick and easy.

The promise seemed almost too good to be true.

“It was such a boost,” said Lashaunda Watson, a 41-year-old student at Southern New Hampshire University who owes almost $20,000. “Nothing like this had ever been done in the country’s history.”

Then it all came to a halt. Lawsuits poured in from conservative groups and Republican-led states, arguing that Biden had overstepped his authority by issuing an executive order to simply forgive student debt ($10,000 for borrowers who earn less than $125,000, or married couples earning up to $250,000, and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients). Some lower court judges agreed and put the order on hold. The matter now could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

For borrowers in New England, the uncertainty feels like a historic gift snatched away. Hopes dashed, fears confirmed.

“One way or another, I was going to get this education,” Watson added. “But I felt a lift by this idea of the debt being canceled because I wouldn’t have had this added weight. I could fly. I could run a little faster. It’s disheartening to see that the assistance we were all excited about may not come to fruition.”


Lashaunda Watson is a graduate of EMPath’s five-year program, Career Family Opportunity.