The problem isn’t college loan debt.
It’s how we approach college.
And the big lie we perpetuate.
It starts with the big sell.
Higher education, we have been told, is an investment.
It is an investment in America.
It is an investment in the future.
It is an investment in humanity.
It is an investment in ourselves.
All four points — and more — are valid.
Yet the numbers don’t bear that out for many people.
Based on data that Sen. Elizabeth Warren references, 40 precent of the borrowers with student debt never finished college.
Those earning doctorates can take up to six to seven years to complete college. Worst yet, unlike loans for undergraduate work that restrict how much they can borrow there is virtually no limits on graduate level loans.
Yet, a doctorate in the humanities in 2019 earned on average $53,000 a year. That is less than a wide repertoire of blue-collar jobs.
Data shows white collar workers with advanced degrees hold 56 percent of the $1.6 trillion in federal student debt.
Those with doctorates can be saddled with $130,000 or more in debt coming out of college.
Keep in mind, the same data shows roughly more than half of borrowers in the federal loan program are less than $20,000 in debt. It’s about what you’d owe buying a Toyota Camry with a couple of thousand put down upfront.
To be honest, too many approach “buying” a college education as if they are buying a car.
They can be convinced by sales pressure to want a certain model.
Instead of working up to it or saving a sizeable down payment they want it now.
They want a new Ford Mustang when a Kia will do.
In fact, the same things happen to people who have to have the souped up and decked out Mustang as opposed to a basic sedan.
They can find themselves paying more than they should have for what is essentially transportation. Starting out with debt on a $60,000 car makes it tough to do other things and often delay the eventuality of buying a home.
Often times a year or so into the purchase they decide the car is not what they went. In some cases, they will dig the hole deeper and trade for another expensive car.
It is an appropriate analogy.
How many of those who have $150,000 in college debt took a path that started at places like Modesto Junior College or Delta College?
Both community colleges can point to numerous success stories. And it includes those who transferred to the California State University system, the University of California, and even private institutions where they end up pursing further education that led to professional careers as varied as lawyers to brain surgeons.
To be honest, there are those pushing higher education that under their breath look down at community colleges.
Yes, there may be more of an atmosphere and synergy at a four-year college. But the cost difference for the first two years needs to be taken into account.
It also makes more sense for people to “find themselves” by exploring options while getting basics out of the way or dipping their toes into various disciplines at a community college.
There is also another big difference.
Community colleges by their very nature have to be more attuned to costs. That isn’t the case the higher you go up the education ladder.
That’s why the federal student loan program that doesn’t really put pressures on pricing helps make higher education less affordable. That’s because whatever the cost, the government guarantees the loan.
It is that carte blanche attitude toward education that undermines perspective.
No one will argue that it is wise to dump large amounts of time or money into a venture that you are not ready to commit to. Yet people do it all the time with higher education.
And if everyone is honest, people are more motivated by the financial return than the self-fulfillment angle.
Learning more about the world and one’s self in an academic setting has immense value, not just to the individuals but society as a whole.
But that isn’t the issue.
It’s the price for what people and the nation ultimately derive from a higher education as it now is structured.
And that needs to be weighed against what it costs society just as we need to weigh what it would cost society if fewer people were partially “educated” in the form of the 50 percent plus of student debt holders that never finished college.
Points about how fair loan forgiveness is when taking into consideration those who paid off college debt, never went to college, or who are making required payments are legitimate.
Does it warrant some type of wholesale loan forgiveness?
That’s a good question but it isn’t “the question.”
What needs to be addressed is the lack of push back on rising college costs especially when the pockets of Uncle Sam — who collectively represents all Americans — are viewed as fair game to keep reaching deeper and deeper into them.
There are a lot of sound points to just say no to loan forgiveness on a wholesale basis that rate being explored.
At the same time, there are solid points made in various scenarios to find ways to ease the burden of those in targeted circumstances.
But what needs to be addressed first before — or at the same time — of any proposal on student debt forgiveness is the cost of college that continues to rise and rise.
It makes more sense to funnel more money into community colleges and less into student loans to foot the bottomless tabs of doctorate work.
Besides, as things stand now not much talk has been about addressing the obvious: Why aren’t we starting with student loan reform with spending caps and more vetting of borrowers in terms of the path they are taking and why they are doing it?
Forgiving student debt solves nothing for America as a whole if we don’t change the process while pushing back on carte blanche check writing via federally guaranteed student loans to underwrite bloated higher education budgets.