West Virginia’s U.S. senators on Tuesday laid out their education-related concerns to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona, including reports of antisemitism on college campuses and recent efforts to forgive student loans.

Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, each serve on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies, which held a hearing Tuesday regarding the department’s funding requests for the Fiscal Year 2025 budget.

During the hearing, Manchin discussed his dismay at the Biden Administration’s continued student loan forgiveness efforts.

“We end up giving $620 billion of debt cancellation has already been implemented, including $275 billion from President (Joe) Biden’s new income driven repayment, and then we’re talking about doing another $750 billion,” Manchin said. “We’re spending more on giving money away than we ever did on education. It makes no sense to me at all.”

The administration has pursued a variety of avenues for debt relief, including the Saving on a Valuable Education Plan, an income-driven repayment plan that aims to lower monthly payments for borrowers.

Additional plans announced by the White House last month include efforts to cancel runaway interest — situations where borrowers owe more than they borrowed despite years of payments — and canceling of debt for those eligible for, but not enrolled in, certain loan forgiveness programs, among others.

There are already a variety of fields in which graduates can work with programs that help with student debt repayment, including eventual full forgiveness, Manchin said.

“And you all have done nothing as a Department of Education, showing me how I can take this burden off of me while I still get paid and I’m contributing to society,” he said.

Manchin noted the SMARTER Debt Act, a bill he and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., introduced in December, would direct the creation of an interactive online dashboard to improve public access to information about existing student loan forgiveness and repayment programs.

Manchin added that a lack of financial literacy on the part of borrowers is also contributing to the issue, with many students potentially taking on as much debt as they are able, rather than just the amount they need.

“Then (the) majority fall out in two years. They think it’s all free money because (there are) no payments at all, there’s no accrued interest whatsoever — but when it comes time to pay the piper, it hits them hard, because we don’t require any financial literacy on the front end,” he said.

The level of student debt forgiveness pursued by the administration is also unfair to those who were not able to go to college, Manchin said.

“And how about the kids who don’t go to school?” he said. “In our little state, there’s an awful lot of kids who can’t go to school. They come to us and say, ‘You mean I’m working and paying my taxes, and you’re giving it away to people who went to college and had a good time and now they don’t want to pay it back?’”

Cardona said he is committed to working with Congress to make higher education more accessible and address issues with the current loan system.

“I think we share the opinion that higher education has been out of reach for too many people and that we have a broken system,” he said. “We’re trying to fix the system to make higher education more affordable.”

Capito took time during the hearing to question Cardona on the department’s response to reports of harassment of Jewish students on college campuses in the midst of student protests against Israel’s war in Palestine.

“No student should feel unsafe on their campus,” Capito said. “Yet just last week, Columbia University had to move classes online, and Jewish students were told by a campus rabbi to go home because it was no longer safe for them on their campus.

“This is just totally unacceptable. Secretary Cardona, do you believe what is happening to Jewish students at Columbia and other colleges and universities across this country is OK?”

“Absolutely not,” Cardona responded. “I think what’s happening on our campuses is abhorrent. Hate has no place on our campuses, and I’m very concerned with the reports of antisemitism. I’ve spoken to Jewish students who have feared going to class as a result of some of the harassment that they’re facing on campuses.”

Cardona said the department at that time had 137 open cases, and has increased communication with institutions to ensure they are protecting students.

Capito went on to suggest the Education Department could pull federal funding from institutions deemed to be in violation of Title Vi of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the measure that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance — which Cardona said is a step the department can take.