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"Make Me Smart” Newsletter

What you need to know about Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan B

Tony Wagner and Kimberly Adams Apr 12, 2024
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Remedial student debt forgiveness: President Joe Biden has promised to take another shot at the issue ever since the Supreme Court blocked his plan to cancel debt for some 43 million people last summer. After offering smaller initiatives for public servants and others, the White House announced its Plan B this week. All together, the administration said these efforts will give 30 million borrowers relief.

Hope you like homework: The new plan rests not on pandemic emergency powers but longstanding education law. It’s more targeted to specific borrowers, ostensibly less vulnerable to lawsuits and requires a lot more paperwork. The whole plan is subject to public comment before it rolls out, and qualified borrowers will have to apply. Vox has a good breakdown of who’s included, but the upshot is that this plan skews older. 

The clock is ticking: Republican states are already suing, and legal challenges on top of the regulatory rigmarole mean student debt forgiveness could still be in limbo on Election Day. Biden’s reelection bid needs young voters in swing states, and polls have found that Gen Z voters didn’t think Biden was doing enough to help them get out from under crushing student debt.

Crucial context: College is getting more expensive. Tuition at some elite universities is approaching $100,000 a year, though schools try to ease the sticker shock by arguing that most students pay much less. Universities have started offering more support and relying on public funding less over the past few decades, and the average sticker price actually fell this year adjusted for inflation. But all this may be cold comfort to prospective students and their families who are wrestling with delayed financial aid caused by the overhauled FAFSA, aka Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Smart in a Shot

An old green car on the streets of Havana.

Kimberly Adams here. Want to start 2025 with some fellow Smarties? I’m leading a trip to Cuba from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1! We’ve only got 30 slots, and almost half of them are taken.

It will be my first time in the country, so we’ll have a seasoned guide to show us the sights and sounds of the island. We’ll stay in a beautiful hotel on Havana’s world-famous Malecon, explore entrepreneurial projects and take in great performances. There will be art, dance, horticulture and, of course, great live Cuban music and delicious traditional cuisine.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Cuba’s unique economy from local experts and community leaders, including the owner of the country’s largest classic car operation. The trip is selling fast — see full details and reserve your spot here. I hope you’ll consider joining us!

The Numbers

What have you been watching lately? Statistically speaking, probably “NCIS.”

Bloomberg’s “Screentime” newsletter analyzed three years of Nielsen top 10 streaming charts this week to provide a new perspective on the streaming wars, outside of whatever show is dominating social media at the moment. Here’s a gift link to the whole newsletter, which has some cool charts. But let’s do the numbers.

113.5 billion minutes

The time viewers have put into “NCIS” since March 2021, according to Nielsen’s top 10 lists. There’s a lot to watch. The naval crime procedural is in its 21st season and has birthed several spinoffs. (Fun fact: “NCIS: Los Angeles” filmed an episode at Marketplace headquarters back in the day.)


Of the 10 highest-rated shows over the past few years, just one is an original series: Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” But Netflix wins with reruns too — it has streaming rights to eight of the top 10 shows. The exceptions are “Bluey,” which lives on many parents’ Disney+ homepages, and “The Big Bang Theory,” which streams on Max.

39.2 billion hours

More evidence of Netflix’s dominance: The time viewers spent watching Netflix content in the Nielsen top 10 was more than triple that of every other streamer combined. As we noted in a prior newsletter, Netflix churns subscribers at a far lower rate than the competition too.


Tubi’s share of monthly TV viewing time. It may not sound like much, but it’s larger than Max and Peacock. Tubi is a free, ad-supported television app (FAST is the industry jargon) that just rebranded to appeal to its relatively young user base.


The portion of adults in the U.S. who use their phone while watching TV, according to Insider Intelligence. Puck argues second-screen habits aided Tubi’s rise, along with the streamer’s Netflix-style licensing of popular old shows. Essentially, people want to have something on that makes it easy to do other stuff. New TV: It’s a lot like old TV!

None of Us Is as Smart as All of Us

Tell us what’s making you smarter at smarter@marketplace.org. We’d love to include your recommendation in a future newsletter.

The average screen attention span is 47 seconds

That number has eroded in recent years, as internet access expanded and smartphones proliferated, invading virtually all aspects of life. Some folks have had enough. Producer Courtney Bergsieker is reading this New Yorker column about the booming market for “dumbphones.”

Eye in the sky

When she’s not dreaming of Cuba, host Kimberly Adams is reading about the drones insurance companies use to photograph houses. Sometimes what they see leads to the cancellation of policies. The Wall Street Journal’s on it. Here’s a free link.

This is your brain on climate change

Editor Tony Wagner’s mind was blown by this interview with Clayton Page Aldern. His new book, “The Weight of Nature” explores how the effects of climate change actually change our brain chemistry. 

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

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