President Biden acted with wisdom and compassion when he announced last month that he would forgive up to $20,000 in individual federal student loan debt. Reducing student debt by any amount is a good start, but action by the president is not enough. According to the White House and the US Department of Education, 45 million borrowers owe $1.6 trillion in student debt. And according to US news and world report, tuition and fees at nationally ranked universities have increased 134% over the past two decades. These issues must be tackled head-on not only by canceling student debt, but also by bringing the uncontrolled cost of higher education under control. Government at all levels, including states and localities, can play an important role.
As a parent and former president of a state technical college in the Atlanta metro area, I know firsthand the problems of student debt. In college, nearly three-quarters of students received some form of financial aid, but many still had to work full time to make ends meet. The pressure associated with having to work while pursuing a course of study adds stress to students’ lives, which all too often leads them to drop out of college. Students who do not complete their studies must still repay their student loan. Biden’s loan forgiveness program would help many of them, but some still owe large sums.
It doesn’t get any easier when parents try to help their children pay for their education. My wife and I have worked most of our lives in the public sector as educators and civil servants. We did not have the necessary resources to create a savings fund for the studies of our two daughters. They had to take out student loans. After graduating—two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees later—they still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These dilemmas faced by my daughters and former students are unfortunate, unnecessary, and not in our nation’s interest to remain competitive with other leading nations. But instead of some in the president’s opposition party (and a few within his own party) criticizing him, they should ask how they can help him do more. Some of those same critics remain silent as billions are spent annually on military aid to our allies, tens of billions of revenue are lost when profitable corporations pay little or no federal income tax, and billions of State and local tax revenue dollars are lost. when these governments cancel or reduce taxes on wealthy corporations in the name of economic development and job creation.
When you see things like this happening, it becomes clear that it is not the money but who is being helped. It makes no sense to me that not everyone wants to help students and graduates get relief from the oppression of student debt.
The president’s critics have also been involved in a game of divide and conquer that must end. They are trying to pit the nation’s workers against students by telling workers they will bear the brunt of the cost of Biden’s loan forgiveness program. This is no truer than saying that workers disproportionately pay aid to Ukraine or Israel. Our government sets the country’s spending priorities. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest that the nation’s working class bears an unfair burden for Biden’s student debt forgiveness initiative.
Instead of criticizing, the nation would be better served if officials worked together to solve the problem. Here are some suggestions:
First, the federal government could stop giving lucrative research grants to colleges and universities that continue to raise their tuition and fees beyond the rate of inflation. Billions of dollars in sponsored research funding go to private universities such as Duke, Emory, Harvard, University of Chicago, and Yale each year, as well as flagship public universities. These institutions and others must be held accountable for the rising cost of higher education.
Sherman Golden, an Atlanta attorney and public finance expert, agrees and recommends that we limit students seeking student loans to schools that charge tuition at or below a certain level set by the federal government. “Over time, students would stop applying to schools whose tuition fees exceeded established levels due to their inability to secure the necessary loans, effectively forcing those institutions over time to adjust their costs to remain competitive or losing talented candidates,” Golden told me. .
States could also freeze public college tuition, perhaps for the next five years, to give families a chance to recover from the lingering effects of COVID-19 and inflation. Additionally, states could dedicate more of their billions of dollars in revenue from legalized pari-mutuel, lotteries, casino games, and sports betting to establish new scholarships and expand existing scholarship programs. . Revenue from the 1992 Georgia-approved state lottery is used primarily for scholarships for two- and four-year college students and early childhood education tuition. Today, 45 states have lotteries, but not all of them use their revenues to fund education.
Finally, cities and states could create an education fund from the fines companies pay for not meeting employment goals or other community benefit provisions after receiving tax abatements. .
Graduate scholarships might compete with other local needs, including pre-K-12 education, but both merit greater public investment: Cities and states benefit from a workforce educated work when higher-paying residents buy homes, start businesses, and pay taxes.
We live in an economy today where higher education, including technical training beyond high school, is imperative. Governments at all levels should do more to ensure that their constituents can get this education without being saddled with crippling debt. Biden has taken an important first step. It is now up to the other officials on both sides of the aisle to finish the job.
GoverningThe opinion columns of reflect the opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of Governingeditors or management.