Other Group

Higher Ed, Not Debt




Washington, DC



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Higher Ed, Not Debt is an education advocacy coalition that supports forgiving college debt. Launched after a speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in 2014, it is a project of Generation Progress, an initiative of the influential far-left think tank Center for American Progress. The coalition includes over 100 state-based and national groups which are engaged in left-of-center labor, education, and other advocacy, such as the AFL-CIO labor union federation and the American Federation of Teachers teachers’ union. 1 2


Higher Ed, Not Debt blames Wall Street for America’s high student debt, opposes policies that reduce government involvement in education, and engages in left-leaning civic engagement and advocacy campaigns. 3

The group focuses on racial and gender issues in education, 4 advocates for taxpayer-provided community college, and provides resources on student loan reductions and payment restructuring. 5 6

In 2017, Higher Ed, Not Debt and several of its partners filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission that alleged that student loan giant Navient Solutions was illegally harassing consumers with frequent phone calls. 7

Higher Ed, Not Debt backs the Gainful Employment Rule, an Obama-era U.S. Department of Education regulation that requires some educational career education programs such as vocational programs to meet specific loan-to-income criteria in order to participate in federal education loan programs. 8 9 The rule was criticized by Republicans and for-profit educational systems, especially after nearly all violators of the rules were found to be for-profit institutions. The rule was repealed by the Trump administration in July 2019. 10

Higher Ed, Not Debt regularly provides commentary or the commentary of its partners on congressional legislation. The group backed a bill introduced by Sen. Warren to allow student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at lower rates. 11  It attacked Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) Higher Education Act reform bill in 2019. 12

Higher Ed, Not Debt attacked the Department of Education for tightening loan forgiveness rules when borrowers claim they were defrauded by borrowers. 13

Criticism of Donald Trump

At the end of 2019, Generation Progress, the founding organization of Higher Ed, Not Debt, described then-President Donald Trump’s stance on student debt as “deny[ing] justice to cheated students.” 14 Higher Ed, Not Debt acclaimed President Joe Biden’s 2021 federal student loan pause, saying it has been “widely celebrated as a step in the right direction.” 15


Higher Ed, Not Debt touts the 100-plus organizations that make up its formal coalition. Its major supporters include, but are not limited, Generation Progress, AFL-CIO, and the American Federation of Teachers. Many smaller, state-based groups also make up the coalition, as do broad left-of-center political strategy and policy groups such as the Campaign for America’s Future, Center for American Progress, and Public Citizen. 16  


Maggie Thompson was Higher Ed, Not Debt’s campaign manager from 2014 to 2016. She was simultaneously Generation Progress’ executive director before moving fully into the Generation Progress role. She worked on Joe Biden’s campaign for President in North Carolina. 17

Senya Merchant also led Higher Ed, Not Debt and now works as co-founder of the Ismailis Rise Up campaign. 18

Brent Cohen worked as Generation Progress’ executive director from 2019 through 2021, before he was named Chief of Staff for the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Biden administration. 19


  1. “Warren launches Higher Ed Not Debt coalition to push back on student loans.” Tuition.io, Inc. March 12, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.tuition.io/2014/03/warren-launches-higher-ed-debt-coalition-push-back-student-loans/
  2. “Weingarten, Sen. Warren help launch ‘Higher Ed, Not Debt.’” American Federation of Teachers. March 6, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.aft.org/news/weingarten-sen-warren-help-launch-higher-ed-not-debt
  3. “About.” Higher Ed Not Debt. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/about
  4. Twitter. Higher Ed Not Debt. January 23, 2020. Accessed May 4, 2022.Accessed May 4, 2022 https://twitter.com/HigherEdNotDebt/status/1220429998722551812
  5. “Free community college.” Higher Ed Not Debt. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/issues/free-community-college
  6. “Resources.” Higher Ed Not Debt. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/home/resources
  7.  Huelsman, Mark. “The case for debt-free college.” First appeared on Demos.org. Reprinted on Higher Ed Not Debt. August 10, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/blog/case-debt-free-college
  8. “Fact sheet: What to know about the gainful employment rule.” The Institute for College Access & Success. Reprinted on Higher Ed Not Debt. August 12, 2019. Accessed May 4, 2022.


  9. Mayotte, Betsy. “What the new gainful employment rule means for college students.” U.S. News & World Report. July 08, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2015/07/08/what-the-new-gainful-employment-rule-means-for-college-students
  10. Kreighbaum, Andrew. “DeVos issues final repeal of gainful employment.” Inside Higher Ed. July 02, 2019. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2019/07/02/devos-issues-final-repeal-gainful-employment
  11. “Sen. Warren reintroduced a student loan refi bill: Our thoughts.” Higher Ed Not Debt. March 18, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/blog/sen-warren-reintroduced-student-loan-refi-bill-thoughts
  12. “Sen. Lamar Alexander releases sham effort to reform higher education: What our partners and allies think.” Higher Ed Not Debt. September 30, 2019. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/blog/sen-lamar-alexander-releases-sham-effort-to-reform-higher-education-what-our-partners-and-allies-think
  13. “De Vos’ guts the Borrower Defense rule, making justice for defrauded students more difficult: What our partners and allies think.” Higher Ed Not Debt. September 3, 2019. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/blog/devos-guts-the-borrower-defense-rule-making-justice-for-defrauded-students-more-difficult-what-our-partners-and-allies-think
  14. “State of Our Union 2020.” Generation Progress. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://genprogress.org/state-of-our-union-2020/
  15. “Higher Ed, Not Debt Partners Respond to President Biden Extending the Student Loan Payment Pause Through May, 2022.” Higher Ed Not Debt. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/blog/higher-ed-not-debt-partners-respond-to-president-biden-extending-the-student-loan-payment-pause-through-may-2022
  16. “Partners.” Higher Ed Not Debt. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://higherednotdebt.org/partners
  17. “Maggie Thompson.” LinkedIn. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/margrettethompson
  18. “Senya Merchant.” LinkedIn. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/senyamerchant
  19. “Brent J. Cohen.” LinkedIn. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/brentjcohen
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Higher Ed, Not Debt

1333 H Street NW
Washington, DC