Here's the plan to erase student debt for more than 42 million Americans right now.

There are two things that most of us can reasonably agree on:

  1. That education is important and should be provided to any American that needs, wants, or otherwise shows interest in obtaining it.
  2. That paying for that education has become catastrophically difficult. And though it used to be that one could go to college, get a good job upon graduating, and then buy a nice house complete with a fenced-in backyard in which to raise 2.5 children, that's now a pipe dream many university students can't even afford to think about.

So what do we do? Some cities, including San Francisco, have already made their community colleges free for residents. But that's just one small step towards a future where education's affordable for everyone.

On Monday, presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren released a memo on how the college system could be altered to make it achievable for all.


Warren's proposing that more college be free and that federal Pell grants be expanded. She's also suggesting that student loan debts should be wiped out, ensuring that future generations get a leg up on their futures.

"As states have invested less per-student at community colleges and public four-year colleges, the schools themselves have raised tuition and fees to make up the gap," Warren wrote in a post on Medium.

"And rather than stepping in to hold states accountable, or to pick up more of the tab and keep costs reasonable, the federal government went with a third option: pushing families that can’t afford to pay the outrageous costs of higher education towards taking out loans."

The result, Warren points out is "a huge student loan debt burden that’s crushing millions of families and acting as an anchor on our economy."

"It’s reducing home ownership rates. It’s leading fewer people to start businesses. It’s forcing students to drop out of school before getting a degree. It’s a problem for all of us."

Here's what Warren's plan would look like.

Under her proposed policy, Warren would wipe out $50,000 worth of student loans for anyone who's annual household income is less than $100,000. Anyone with a household income of less than $250,000 would also receive substantial reductions.

Those whose incomes are higher than $250,000 would continue paying off student loans without changes. However, as Huffington Post notes, the proposed plan would help 42 million people in The United States. That's 95% of anyone who's attended or is currently attending college.

Warren's plan also includes a significant amount of money being invested in historically black colleges and universities, more diversity in two and four-year colleges, and an end to the government-helping fund for-profit colleges, which prey on economically disadvantaged communities.

The policy sounds great — more students attaining college degrees while being allowed more control over their financial futures — but it's going to be a tall order to implement right now.

Aside from hand-wringing concern trolls who are already out in full force on Twitter, demanding to know why anyone would go to a college they can't afford (while ignoring that higher education has become so expensive that even state schools are out of reach for many), there's the very real issue of convincing voters that the $1.25 trillion the program would cost over ten years is viable.

Warren believes it would be possible by raising the tax on families that earn more than $50 million a year, something that might also ruffle some feathers during the next election cycle.

Still — a population that's educated and not overwhelmed with debt? That sounds pretty good no matter who you voted for in the last election.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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