Writing an Op-Ed: Student Debt Cancellation Act

As a part of our national campaign to cancel student debt, we encourage members to write articles on campus and local papers to connect the national debt crisis to the daily hardships of student debtors in your community.

This guide was developed by the College for All Committee.

Talking Points

When writing an op-ed about student debt, it can be useful to answer these basic questions:

1. What are the facts?

  • Student loan debt in the US:
    • Total debt: $1.6 trillion
    • Student loan debt is the second biggest source of consumer debt in the U.S. and most student debt is owed to the federal government (source). 
    • Average debt: 65% of students graduating in 2017 took out loans, graduating with an average debt of $28,650 (source).
    • People affected: 45 million people
    • Student loan delinquency or default rate: 11.4%
    • Historical trend: Student loan debt has drastically increased in the last couple of decades. Since 1996, the average debt has doubled.
    • Student loan debt figures in your state.
    • Student loan debt on your campus.
  • Groups most affected by student debt:
    • Black communities (source)
      • Black families need to take on higher levels of debt for the same degree as white students.
      • Black students are more likely to borrow than white students, and they do so at higher amounts.
      • Although default and delinquency rates are incredibly high across the board, black college graduates default at a rate FIVE times higher than white college graduates.
      • Black college graduates default at a higher rate than white students who dropped out of college with debt.
      • The gains from higher education are significantly higher for white college graduates than they are for black college graduates.
    • Women (source)
      • Women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States — almost $929 billion as of early-2019.
      • Following graduation, women repay their loans more slowly than do men, in part because of the gender pay gap.
      • Women with bachelor’s degrees working full-time make 26 percent less than their male peers. Lower pay means less income to devote to debt repayment.

2. Why does this matter?

Tip: Here’s a good place to use anecdotes and personal stories.

  • What does debt prevent people from doing?
    • Getting a mortgage on a house
    • Starting a family
    • Starting a business
    • Leaving a bad job
    • Saving for retirement
    • Pursuing a higher education
  • How does student debt hurt the economy?
    • Debtors have less money to spend.
    • Nearly 40% of borrowers report they have been unable to achieve their career goals. And 28% of borrowers have been prevented from starting a business. (source)
    • Debt and the high cost of education are keeping millions of people from specializing and learning new skills.

3. What can be done about it?

  • Briefly, and in simple terms, explain the Student Debt Cancellation Act.
  • Encourage readers to call and email their local congress members to urge them to support the bill. 
    • You can make things easier for your readers by directing them to this link and emphasizing that it takes less than a minute. 
  • Let readers know how they can get involved in your YDSA chapter.

General Advice

Less is More

  • Pick your point: You want to choose one, at most two, points that you will go back to throughout the Op-Ed.
  • Simplicity: In terms of writing style, you want to keep your vocabulary accessible and minimize the use of adjectives, adverbs, and compound sentences.
  • Avoid jargon & acronyms: If you need to use a technical term, you must explain it concisely. That being said, do try to avoid jargon. Same goes for acronyms.
  • Name-dropping: The names of people, organizations, bills, etc should be put into context – who/what/when/where/how.

Bring it down to earth

  • Add a face: Make sure to add a human touch by including a personal story or a story of someone else (make sure to have their consent though, if the story is not already in the public domain!). 
  • Make it local: Generally, you will be addressing a local audience. Make it clear how the issue affects the people in your local area.
  • Make statistics talk: Numbers are great, but they don’t speak for themselves. Similar to name-dropping, you’re going to need to explain what the statistics mean and why it is important to the point you are trying to make.

Who am I speaking to?

  • Framing: Frame your argument in a way that will communicate the idea you want and sway the audience in the way you want. To do so, you need to know who your audience is in terms of political leaning and demographics.
  • Reel them in: Your title and the first paragraph are crucial to keeping the reader interested. Make sure to start with a strong hook for your audience!

Pitch it

Email the publication where you want to see your article published. Include a short description of your op-ed and why it matters now (2-3 sentences), as well as a short description of yourself and why your voice matters in this debate. Don’t forget to include your contact information.