Joe Biden’s plan to “forgive” a certain amount of outstanding student loan debt continues to spur debates in the courts and the media. Just this morning we looked at the “pause” in the plan that’s currently in effect. And now the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked the plan as well. One interesting angle of this discussion is the stark difference between the views of those who carry such debt or anticipate carrying it and those who do not but make payments on other types of loans. There’s an exception to every rule, of course, and this week NBC News seems to believe they’ve found one in the person of academic editor Natalie Schriefer. She has penned a long tale ripped from the pages of her own life, describing how she financed her journey through college and grad school. She had some small loans to pay at various points but now carries no debt. And yet she is supporting Biden’s loan forgiveness efforts.
My loans were minimal. Without them hanging over me after graduation, I had the time and space to think about my job choices and career in a purposeful way. I didn’t have to take the first position that came along if it wasn’t a good fit. When I wanted to leave a bad job, I could — and I did.
I couldn’t have done that if I’d had loan payments. This mindful decision-making is something that, frankly, everyone deserves. If people have the opportunity to work for companies well suited to their skills and interests, the benefits may extend beyond the individual to businesses as well: Research suggests that unhappy employees can cost their employers billions per year.
Student debt relief is one way to let people be people, first and foremost, and loanees second. Everyone could have a chance at winning in the process.
There will always be a place for hard work. There will always be a place for scrimping and saving, too. But we need to do these things because we choose to and not because our college system is broken.
Schriefer’s story isn’t really all that different from many people who were able to go to college and obtain multiple degrees without having been born with a silver spoon in their mouth. She worked multiple jobs while attending school full-time. She obtained some grants and scholarships, but still had to sign on for some loans. They were small, however, described as “amounting to a few thousand dollars per semester.”
To her credit, Schriefer points out that we’re talking about a system that is full of flaws on multiple levels. I’ve never argued that the entire collegiate financial system is fine so people should just stop whining. Some college loan programs have proven to be problematic to say the least. The colleges and universities themselves are the main drivers of this problem because they continued to jack up tuition rates at a pace vastly ahead of all other conventional cost curves. And many do so while sitting on endowments worth billions like a greedy dragon laying on its hoard.
So having been through the system, Schriefer clearly is in a position to speak on the subject. But her conclusions simply don’t add up, at least for me. She argues that loan forgiveness will “let people be people, first and foremost, and loanees second.” That’s certainly a cheerful outlook, but if your loan is simply “forgiven” (and dumped onto the backs of the taxpayers) you are no longer a loanee or borrower. You’re simply off the hook.
The author also argues that student loan forms are complicated and that too many students sign off on them only to later realize they have bitten off more than they can chew. I fully agree that lenders should make the application process as transparent as possible, but by the time most people enter college, they are adults, or at least on the cusp of adulthood. Agreeing to take a loan is an adult decision and brings with it obligations. There are many younger people who apply for credit cards without realizing what horribly high rates of interest they will be charged and how making the minimum payments take almost nothing off of the principal. They then run up tons of empty debt and are in big trouble for a long time. Should their debt be forgiven because they didn’t grasp all of the details?
As I’ve mentioned here before, many people wind up taking out a variety of loans, perhaps because they feel they have no other choice. If you don’t live in a major city, having a car is almost mandatory for many who need to commute to work. Cars are more expensive than ever these days and automotive loans can be a large burden to bear. But if we simply start wiping out debt across the board, a large part of our economic sector will go under.
If we limit this “forgiveness” to only student loans taken out by adults who agreed to the contractual terms, then you are being completely “unfair” to everyone with other types of loans as well as to those who took out student loans but scrimped and saved and paid them off. The courts are currently in the process of deciding whether or not the President has the authority to take an action like this without congressional oversight. Even if the answer winds up being that he can do it, we are still not addressing the question of whether he should.