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In the realm of student loan forgiveness, I have mixed feelings. The sheer weight of the debt is a negative factor in the economy. Almost everyone agrees with this. And there is a generational unfairness where those who have graduated over the last couple of decades bear a higher cost of their education when compared to baby boomers and the WWII vets who benefitted (rightfully so) from GI Bill funding of education.
But I don’t want to bore you with numbers and statistics. “Figures lie and liars figure,” as the saying goes.
This of more of a gut instinct about the concept.
The cost of education has soared. The reasons vary for this. One of the more interesting theories is that the availability of student loans fuels the rising school costs since students continue to apply despite the tuition numbers.
There is no market pressure to compete against less costly alternatives, like in-State institutions or two-year community colleges.
But ultimately, people make their choices. For 2022-2023, the average annual cost for a private university is $39,723. For out-of-state tuition at a public university, it is $22953. And for in-State, $10423. The cost differences are dramatic.
Then there are the Ivies and other “prestigious” schools. The cost of attending Brown University is staggering for the academic year 2023-2024.
On-campus housing: $18,466
Total for 4 years: $346,336
Now while there are programs to offset some of these costs, financial aid at Brown is not something most students can rely on to reduce a significant portion of their degree costs.
So a graduating senior leaves Brown with an outstanding education and what amounts to a mortgage on a house they can no longer live in. But as the saying goes,
“What do you call a graduate of Brown Medical School? Doctor. What do you call a graduate of the University of Florida Medical School? Doctor.”
After a few years, one’s innate abilities and drive will overcome any real or perceived benefit from where one graduated.
But what this all boils down to is choices. When you decide on the school to attend, you accept the cost. Then, when you take out the loan, you know the numbers and the effect this will have on your future income.
None of this was shrouded in fog.
To expect others who, for whatever reason, did not take on such debt to pay for your decision to do so seems incongruous with accepting responsibility for one’s choices.
Of course, like all such issues, inherent complexities and subtleties go beyond the emotion of the problem. For example, perhaps the government could consider lowering the interest rate on the loans to reduce the burden. But in the final analysis, those who took on these loans walked away with the degree. To expect others to pay for something they do not benefit from does not feel right.
We need to revisit the whole concept of public education. Once there was controversy over requiring a high school diploma in an economy driven by jobs where the perception of most saw little benefit from such an educational standard. Things have changed, and the necessity of a college degree for many, but not all, occupational choices is clear.
Or maybe we should try to catch up with a significant portion of the rest of the essentially democratic countries in the world who offer free undergraduate—and in some cases masters and PhD level—degrees for free.
Perhaps as a temporary measure we can reduce (but not eliminate) the crushing burden of student loan debt in the short term while putting in place a process to bring the pressures of market demand back onto tuition costs. By increasing competitiveness for student applications we can reduce the overall costs of education for future generations.
And yet, the idea of forgiving student debt as an outright measure still doesn’t feel right to me.
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