Canceling Student Debt: A Solution or a Stall?

25 December 2020

Jeff McCarty

Every day bounds of human beings wake up with intentions and ambitions of forging a better life for themselves and their loved ones. The end destination that they strive to arrive at with the hard work of their ambitions varies per person, and so the path that one may take to get to their end destination will vary. There is a paradigm within our society that dictates one stop along the path that we ‘must’ take if we are to become successful. This is the paradigm of receiving secondary education, mainly through the completion of a college degree.

Colleges come in all shapes and sizes. Each college has its degree focuses and specialty tracks designed to enhance the allure of attending. Though colleges can differ regarding how they house their students, how they provide classes, the range of courses and resources they have to offer, and other factors in how they operate, there are plenty of similarities that each college must contend with. One similarity above all else is that college comes with costs. Most referred to as tuition, no college can conduct its business of providing higher education without cost stacking up on the balance sheet.

Though all colleges come with a cost to finance the operation, who that cost falls on differs. All students have a tuition bill to be paid, as far as who is paying that bill is another question. For some, they have earned scholarships and grants that will pay the cost, usually given certain grade point averages are achieved. Others though, have to pay the bill out of pocket. Some pockets are deeper than others though. So, for some, they pay the bill (or a well-off family member pays the bill for them) and for others, they struggle with the decision to go based on the ability to pay the bill. Insert the student loan.

At first, it would seem to make sense to provide a student loan option. Give people the ability to pay for their higher education, through a familiar system of lending that has been with us since the advent of trade itself. Since most student loans are back by the federal government, it would seem to be an investment that the government would be making with that person. For that person's achievement of academic success would turn into prosperity for the country. This is the paradigm that many have when contemplating the concept of student loans. This though doesn’t quite consider the societal factors that lead someone to need a student loan. Furthermore, the extension of the loan towards the debtor is a guarantee of funds for that person to attend a college. From there though, there is no guarantee that the debtor will choose a field that will earn them a higher wage or that even if they do choose a good field of study, there is no guarantee of what the job market will look like for that profession. This of course is based on the presumption that the debtor can graduate. Given the circumstances of many of them, the other responsibilities of life may detract from their ability to complete their program and earn their degree.

Regardless of the specific situation that each student that takes a student loan finds themselves in, one thing remains the same. That they have a loan to pay back when their time in college is over.

As of lately, there have been lots of talk about the potential for president-elect Joe Biden to essentially waiver student debt. From amounts of $10,000 - $50,000 to complete forgiveness of all student debt currently held, there are various proposals out there that would alleviate these student loan debts to different degrees. Though this idea of canceling student debt is not new, it has found new life in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been largely in part due to stimulus talks becoming dismal and stagnant in Congress, as well as this is an area that the President and Executive branch have precedence over.

Once again upon first glance, this seems great. Supporting those who had to take loans out that are specifically designed for the pursuit of higher education, especially in a dire economic situation where people are hurting for support, would make sense. Combined with the demographics of those who have these loans and can use the assistance, some see it as a starting point of mending broken bridges between racial and socioeconomic groups.

Though I am not against these motives for canceling student debt, what I am against is hastily using up political capital that is required to make changes without those changes solving the problem at hand. In this case, the problem being the distribution of higher education. As a proponent of reforming our education system for the better, my concern is that we may settle for a solution that seems great at the moment but is only solving the problem for a limited time.

What happens the next semester after the debt is forgiven? Can those same or new students just take out more? What put certain students in this predicament, to begin with? Even more concerning is the fact that this is a proposed solution to a different problem than it was originally designed for. It’s one thing to implement a student debt forgiveness program in the wake of an incremental and seismic change to the education system to solve the problems of distributing knowledge and opportunity to the masses, it's another thing to have this proposal on the table as the solution to the economic devastation that has affected the bulk of the country. Many of whom have no student debt, let alone have ever attended a college.

This is just the reality of the situation. So, when we are having discussions of canceling student debt, let’s not shy away from the fact that it is not a solution for the economic crisis that we are facing in the United States of America, but a temporary bandage to convince us we feel better.

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