Student Loan Debt Relief – Hell, Yes!

Debt Economics Education Personal Writings

            Marble Falls     I’ve been trying to follow the ping-pong ball back and forth on arguments about the Biden administration’s one-time student loan relief program of between $10 and $20,000 for eligible borrowers making less than $125,000 a year and Pell Grant recipients.  Some are arguing this is a middle-class welfare program, increasing inequity.  Others are saying it’s the opposite and addresses a generational problem of reduced income facing escalating higher education costs and overbroad job requirements for degrees.

My professional take on the politics is straightforward.  Anything that may impact 43 million Americas, as the Biden administration claims or  “more than 12 million Americans in their 30s — more than a quarter of that age group — [who] still have unpaid student debt” can’t be all bad, and, in fact, has to be a huge win for many.  To me, that seems like good politics and good economics.

My personal take on the Biden proposal is “right on!” and “thanks a million!”

My personal experience with student loans over my haphazard off-and-on journey to complete two years was fraught.  I worked two summers in the oil fields, first in Oklahoma, and then offshore off the Louisiana coast, to pay for room, board, books and everything but tuition.  I argued for a decade with Williams College over $5000 they tried to charge me for a special scholarship loan that I felt they cashed after I dropped out a second time and that should have been a grant, that I refused to pay.  My parents had saved enough to pay most of the tuition for one-year.  After I dropped out for good to organize, we three took a trip to Hawaii on what was left of my college savings, where the family joke every day was to ask if I was learning a lot, and for many years, when asked about my education, I claimed to have graduated in a special one-week course in Honolulu with a huge, whopping grin on my face.

Our family’s deal with our children was that I would shoulder any college loans they had, because I wanted them to have the same freedom from debt to make the kind of decisions about their future, that I had for my life’s work, and the devil take the hindmost.   Our son went to community college for two years before transferring and graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, so that make that nut easier to crack.  After monthly payments for more than a decade, I finally settled with our daughter’s Hampshire College a couple of years ago.  More recently, she had gotten a masters in public policy at Hunter College, and we had about ten grand remaining on that loan, which, thanks to Biden, should be forgiven once the dust settles, and we all make it through whatever process is put in place.

The loan was hers, but the debt is mine, so I’m doing a happy dance, and I’m darned sure that I’m not alone, even though I’m decades past the age that counts for these job-weary, cash-strapped millennials.

I can’t count the number of young organizers I’ve hired where we had to make special plans within our “equity and need” wage policy to cover some part of student loans or keep them current, so they could organize.  That number is dwarfed by the number of talented, driven young people who we were not able to hire with our wages, because they were being crushed by the burden of student loans on one hand, and families who had sacrificed for their degrees and were unable to comprehend that our pay, no matter the mission and its value, was less than their calculations.

The Biden plan doesn’t solve the student loan dilemma because costs that have been driven by legislative defunding of education in state and state and have shifted the burden to students and their families and the rapacious cost increases by private higher educational institutions will be untouched.  Free community college and more generous scholarships to achieve equity would cost more and there seems no political will for that.

In the meantime, relief is sweet, and will be remembered by many as they cast their ballots in November.  There’s nothing wrong with that.