Prepare for a new battle in America’s culture wars: the clash over college loan forgiveness.
It has been widely reported that President Joe Biden may soon deliver on his campaign promise, possibly through executive action, to reduce college loan debt.
It remains to be seen how much debt will be erased and for whom, although the Washington Post has reported that the figures exchanged at the White House are $10,000 in debt relief for people earning less than $125,000 (or possibly $150,000) per year. .
Meanwhile, some will rightly point out that debt doesn’t just go away. Instead, it is simply transferred, presumably to taxpayers; some of them didn’t choose to go to college (and don’t like paying for others) and others who may have paid off their college loans years ago and have to wonder : “Where is my money ?”
I will admit that I don’t understand the mechanics or scope of such a loan forgiveness program, but I’m quite sure it will be front and center during the midterm elections. I’ve noticed before that some blue-collar workers on Facebook are rhetorically asking if the government will now pay back the loans on their work trucks as well.
As a former education journalist, part-time teacher, and father of two sons, ages 15 and 20, I feel like I’m in the crossfire of this debate. (Oh, and I own a van, too, so here goes.) Some of my students at UTC work full-time and still rack up a lot of student loan debt.
We started saving for our sons’ college education when they were babies, but we always knew college was expensive and paying for it would require multiple sources of income: long-term college savings, scholarships, loans, student work income and real-time assistance from mom and dad.
So far, so good. We are blessed.
Our eldest son chose a private Christian school out of state, and it took all five sources of income to pay his bills. He did his part by getting scholarships and working; this spring/summer he is loading and unloading trucks. He’s also taken out modest student loans, so he’s got his skin in the game. (Payments will be around $200 a month when he graduates.)
Meanwhile, her mother and I pay for school fees from her 529 college savings plan and sometimes take on extra work, in part to help her with day-to-day expenses. By the way, our ability to do extra work seems like a blessing, not a burden.
If by presidential magic he were to get some leniency on government-backed student loans, we wouldn’t feel like moochers.
Still, I understand the issue of fairness. Why should less educated people pay student bills? Forgotten in the debate is the fact that many already do. The Tennessee Educational Lottery, for example, turns the tax on all those scratch games into merit-based college scholarships. The beneficiaries are often students from middle and upper class families.
This transfer of wealth seems more acceptable because it is voluntary – no one is forced to spend on the lottery. But it still sometimes bothers me to think that the lottery is an invisible tax that falls disproportionately on those with less income to spare.
There is also that. The New York Times reported this week, “About half of Americans currently don’t pay federal income tax because they don’t earn enough.” So before you fall too hard for the “pay my truck” lament, consider that some of these people may be TINOs, taxpayers in name only.
I come from a time (the 1970s) when it was possible to make it through school without college savings or parental support. And when I graduated from Middle Tennessee State in 1980, I owed $750 in student loans which I paid off at the rate of $15 a month. But those were the good old days, even though my room looked like a $20 a night hotel room.
(READ MORE: What would it take to solve the student debt crisis?)
Part of the problem today is the high cost of higher education. Many colleges today are fancier than the places we live and work, and that comes at a cost.
Here’s a modest idea: instead of canceling loan debt, why can’t the government start a gap year program for high school graduates. If you work for a year after high school — painting school buildings, say, or cutting grass on federal property — you could earn maybe $12 an hour, and by the end of the year, receive a $10,000 grant that could be used for college. , vocational education or to start a business. (And, yes, you could even use the money as a down payment on a work truck.)
The pursuit of happiness means different things to different people. Once we are confronted with this fact, some of the class acrimony we feel today may slowly fade away.
Email Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.