Hypocritical thoughts on student loan forgiveness …

By Ashley Bean Thornton

The Supreme Court is supposed to rule on the Biden student loan forgiveness program today.  Here’s a link to an article that seems to explain the nuts and bolts of the plan pretty well: Biden Student Loan Forgiveness FAQs: The Details, Explained – Forbes Advisor.

I graduated from Baylor 40 years ago this year with no student debt thanks to wise, hard-working, generous parents and some good scholarships. Certainly, that was a huge advantage in starting my life as an adult breadwinner.

So, I have mixed feelings about even saying this…but I have mixed feelings about the student loan forgiveness plan.

I guess I contributed slightly to earning the scholarship money I received, but I can’t say I really “worked” for it.  I was just doing school, and I was lucky enough that the things I am good at doing – mainly taking standardized tests — happen to be the things that scholarship people like to reward.  Other than that, my debt-free college education was a total gift to me from my parents.  Isn’t it hypocritical for me to question whether someone else should receive that same gift?

Maybe so. Yet, I do have some questions – hypocritical or not.

For example, why student debt?  Why not, for example, medical debt?  At least with student debt, you probably had some kind of choice whether to incur the debt or not.  But do you really have that same choice with medical debt?  If we are going to use our tax money to pay off a bunch of debt for people – maybe medical debt would be a more fair choice?

Also, it seems like when you decide to take on student debt you are probably thinking, “This will be worth it because I will end up making more money.”  It’s making a somewhat risky investment, similar to taking on debt to start a business. Why should we protect this investment when it fails instead of protecting other investments when they fail?  For example, business loans?

I have quite a bit of sympathy for people who didn’t go to college who resent their tax money going to pay for those who did.  I can imagine a high school grad thinking, “Well, I would like to go to college, but I can’t afford it, so I guess I’ll go to work.”  Isn’t that the responsible thing to do?  To make a decision to live within your means?  I can’t find a way to blame them for feeling like they did the responsible thing, and for being ticked off about being asked to help pay for less responsible people who are now going to be better off than they are.

Maybe it’s worth it to pay off student debt instead of other kinds of debt because our economy needs college graduates, and we need to encourage people to go to college.  If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better to take the money we are planning to use to pay off student debt and spend it on the front end – to make college cheaper overall going forward, to subsidize community college/technical school, or to give grants for the kinds of college degrees we think we need, or something like that?  That way people could be making decisions up front.  That responsible high school grad in the last paragraph could go on and go to college because she could afford it.

Maybe there was something confusing or even a little predatory about the student loans when people took them – and now they are costing way more than originally estimated?  I don’t know enough about it to know if that is true or not.  If it is true, then I don’t have any problem with making that right – maybe by refiguring the loans based on lower interest rates or something like that?  That would be different to me than just paying off the debt.

All I’m saying is the student loan debt forgiveness program feels a little squirrelly to me.  I don’t feel 100% comfortable with it.  If the Supreme Court approves it, I’ll be fine with that. I understand that a college education now is far, far, far more expensive than it was when I was going to school. Maybe that’s the main thing that makes this loan forgiveness program make sense.

Also, I have many, many friends who will benefit, and I will be  happy for them.  In the grand scheme of things, I think the government probably spends plenty of money in even more squirrelly ways – so this is probably a better use of my tax dollars than some other things.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t approve it – I hope that’s not the end of the conversation. I’m not sure student loan forgiveness is the right conclusion, but I do think it is the right conversation.  I hope we keep thinking of ways to make a college education more affordable, and ways to help people escape or avoid crushing debt.  Maybe we will come up with some even better ideas.

I’m sitting here in the comfortable life I built on a debt-free college education passing judgement on a program meant to help those who did not have my good fortune.  I’m trying not to be hypocritical, but I feel hypocritical.  I’m also trying to be honest.  I’m trying to see more than one side of the argument.  It’s complicated.  I have mixed feelings.  Are we allowed to have mixed feelings anymore?

Update: Looks like the Supes decided to block it: Supreme Court blocks Biden student loan forgiveness | Reuters

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