OPINION: Student Loan Forgiveness is Democrats's Misdirected Magnanimity


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The following opinion article represents the views of the author and not necessarily those of Westwood Minute.

By Eric C. Wright

Who wouldn’t want to help out a young college grad by erasing part of their student loan debt? After all, if they do not have to pay down this loan, they could move out of their parent’s house and start building equity by purchasing an astronomically inflated home, condo, or car. I happen to be one of those dead set against the Biden Administration’s misdirected loan forgiveness policy that panders to party progressives whose policies harm those people they purport to protect.

I could muster multiple arguments to make a compelling case, but will limit myself to two. First, there is an equity argument. Second, we need a sustainable solution to the runaway costs of higher education.

First, let’s take the equity argument. Democrat progressives spout “equity” and fairness more faithfully than that well-known geyser in Yellowstone, but how is it equitable or fair that some students or their families have made difficult sacrifices only to watch others in the same situation get a free pass?

Many working-class students and families decide which school the student will attend based on what they can afford and what their loan debt will be. Their budgeting might mean the student spends the first two years at community college to save money or commutes rather than enjoys the full, on-campus experience. These students and their families often work additional jobs to try to make ends meet. 

Under the current student loan forgiveness largess, progressives devalue the sacrifice and achievement of those students who were responsible and deferred gratification in order to meet their financial commitments. Progressives instead offer a loan forgiveness program that gives a break to students including the well-off and the financially irresponsible, who are lumped into the same category for loan forgiveness eligibility as fiscally responsible students. Under the proposed student loan forgiveness program, racking up debt is a smart decision because an overreaching federal government will wipe the slate clean for you.

Continuing on the equity vein, why should all taxpayers, especially the working class who did not benefit from college or student loan forgiveness, subsidize the college education bills of others? Since the 1990s, the Democrats’ rationale for attending college and dismantling high school career and vocational programs centered on their forecast of an allegedly grim economic future if we did not. Their education economists conducted analyses demonstrating that over a lifetime, a college degree was worth millions compared to a high school diploma.

Let me remind progressives that according to the latest census, only around one-third of Americans have at least a bachelors degree. If college grads can be expected to benefit from a college degree that allegedly enables them to reap a future financial windfall, where is the equity in having working-class people – who may not possess the same upward mobility that a college graduate has - subsidize college grads? The progressive claptrap sounds like an elitist argument hiding behind the skirts of an equity one. In fact, student loan forgiveness means that the majority of taxpayers will work to support a lucky minority, the latter who already benefits from the odds being stacked in their favor by an inequitable system.

The second argument against student loan forgiveness focuses directly on higher education’s runaway costs and dubious value. I, for one, have absolutely no interest in any policy that enables the currently broken institutional system to continue on its indefensible path of increasing already unaffordable costs. Institutions change when they are forced to. By stepping in, and essentially paying the buyer’s (i.e., student’s) costs when the product (i.e., higher education) is overpriced, the government is artificially supporting the exorbitantly high prices of higher education. This is the most obvious problem of a broken system. When the government pays off costly and unaffordable education price tags, the pressure is off higher education to reform itself.

I could launch a curmudgeonly diatribe against the one-sided culture that higher education foists on impressionable youths, but I won’t. Instead, I want to focus on the inconsistency of the progressive argument for higher education. If we define the primary purpose of a college degree in economic terms, as the progressives successfully did, then we should evaluate a college degree in economic terms. In economic terms, however, higher education is not structured to provide a maximum return.

Professors are scholars whose sometimes arcane knowledge makes them particularly ill-equipped to provide a maximum return on investment. Recently, higher education circles cheered when slightly over 60% of students graduated within six years! When barely a majority of college students graduate with a four-year degree in six years, one can reasonably conclude there is a problem. The goal used to be graduation in four years.

I am not necessarily blaming the individuals.  Professors are not necessarily trained to be skilled teachers, but they are experts in their field. Tenure and career advancement are tied to scholarship and publication, not preparing graduates. Professors are offered incentives for research and publication, and much less likely rewarded for their teaching. The system, not the people in it, needs fixing.

Put simply, currently, higher education is financially unsustainable and does a poor job of educating its students. Look at the pitiful rate of students who graduate in four years, if at all; look at the debt incurred and the opportunity costs of attending but not graduating from college in four years. If universities do a fantastic job educating their charges, why do so many struggle to find a reasonable job? Why does industry continually bemoan the lack of qualified job candidates?

I am strongly opposed to saddling students with debt. However, I would greatly appreciate policies from Washington that address the problem of runaway higher education costs rather than rewarding the continued irresponsibility of a broken higher education system. “Elites” with promising futures and college degrees do not require subsidies from the rest of us – and especially not from the working class that never did partake in the higher education racket.

Westwood Minute takes no position on the opinion articles that it publishes, but seeks accurate and thoughtful commentary on topics that matter to our community, from a variety of differing viewpoints. Feel free to reply with your reaction in comments below, or submit another perspective to WestwoodInAMinute@gmail.com.

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