Lesson Plan: Should the government forgive federal student loan debt?

The Debate over Student Loan Forgiveness

Washington Post national higher education reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel talked about various student loan forgiveness proposals. She discussed how these proposals might works and arguments for and against student loan forgiveness.


This lesson looks at the recent proposals to forgive federal student loan debt and has student explore the arguments surrounding this issue. Students will view video clips of journalists, policy experts, and elected officials discussing the problems with student debt and if cancelling federal student loan debt would address these problems. This lesson can be adapted to in-person, virtual, or hybrid classes.


  • SET-UP:

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or independently by students.

    Each activity, video and handout included in the lesson can be linked to an online discussion board or learning management system. You can also save and share the following Google handout for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Student Loan Forgiveness (Google Doc)

    By making a copy of this Google Doc, you can adjust the instructions to meet the needs of your class and provide that copy to your students. Your students can also make a copy and complete the assignments digitally in the space provided.

  • WARM-UP:

    To begin class and engage students in a conversation about college affordability and student loan debt, have the students answer and discuss the following questions:

    • What are the costs and benefits of going to college?

    • What are ways that people pay for college?
  • VOCABULARY PREVIEW: After discussing the students’ answers to the warm-up questions and addressing any misconceptions, preview the following vocabulary terms. Students will need to have a working definition of these terms to understand the video clips. Teachers can opt to use the vocabulary section on the handout to research and define these concepts.

    Handout: Student Loan Forgiveness (Google Doc)

    • Default

    • Executive Order

    • For-Profit College

    • Interest Rate

    • Student Loan

    • Tuition

    • Wealth Gap

    After students have a general understanding of the vocabulary terms used in the lesson, introduce the issue by having students view the following two video clips and answer the associated questions. Students can access these video clips and question using the handout.

    Handout: Student Loan Forgiveness (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip 1: The Debate over Student Loan Forgiveness (5:27)

    • What actions are being considered regarding forgiving federal student loans?

    • How might these actions be unfair to people without student loan debt?

    • What does Danielle Douglas-Gabriel mean by “moral hazard?”

    • How might society benefit from student loan forgiveness?

    • Why might an income cap be included in any student loan forgiveness proposal?

    • Describe the scope of the student loan debate problem in the United States.

    • According to opponents of these proposals, how does loan forgiveness not address the problems with student loan debt?
  • Video Clip 2: Challenges in Paying off Student Debt (1:39)

    • How are types of borrowers impacted differently by federal student loan debt?

    • What challenges do borrowers face when paying off student loan debt?

    Review the students’ responses to the introductory video questions. Address any confusion that students might have. Using the information from the following video clips, students will use the chart on the handout to take notes on arguments for and against federal student loan forgiveness. Students will eventually use this information to formulate their own opinion on this issue.




    Using the options listed below, decide how you would like the class to apply what they have learned. In each of these options students will answer the question: Should the government forgive federal student loan debt?

  • WRAP-UP:

    To summarize what was learned in the lesson, have students answer the following question as an exit slip:

    • Why is the question over forgiving federal student loan debt so controversial?

    Create a Survey- Gauge public opinion on this issue by creating a survey that addresses how student loan debt impacts adults and opinions on student loan forgiveness. Give this survey to several adults, record their answers, and summarize the results.

    Interview- Develop a list of interview questions that relate to student loan forgiveness. Interview an adult and provide a summary of these responses.

    Switch Sides- Based on the video clips, develop a stance about forgiving student loan debt. Using the same prompt, use examples and supporting points to argue the reverse of your stance.

    College Simulation- Using the Time for Payback website, play the simulation. As you play the simulation, make a list of decisions and actions that increased and decreased the following factors. When you have completed the simulation, summarize your results and evaluate how well you did. What could you have done differently?

    • Focus

    • Connections

    • Happiness

    • Debt

    • What are some of the costs and benefits of going to college?

    • How can canceling student loan debt impact the economy?

    • What other solutions can be used to address the problems with student loan debt?

    • What should the federal government’s role be in higher education?

Additional Resources


  • Bankruptcy
  • Contract
  • Default
  • Delinquent
  • Economic Recession
  • Executive Action
  • Executive Order
  • Federal Student Loan Debt
  • Financial Burden
  • For-profit College
  • Graduate School
  • Higher Education
  • Income
  • Inequity
  • Interest Rate
  • Loan Forgiveness
  • Master’s Degree
  • Middle Class
  • Moral Hazard
  • National Debt
  • Partisan
  • Ph. D
  • Professional Degree
  • Student Loan Debt
  • Subsidize
  • Systemic Racism
  • Taxpayer
  • Tuition
  • Wealth Gap


Economics & Financial LiteracyEducation


High SchoolUniversity