Trump wants to cancel student loan forgiveness for public servants. But what if you’ve already taken the loans?
By Jill Richardson | February 19, 2020
Before sharing my opinions about Trump’s recent proposal to cut student loan forgiveness, let me explain my own situation.
In my 20s, I was fresh out of college with a business degree and worked in software for a few years. In my 30s, I went to graduate school for sociology. I’m single and I had no family support. So I took out student loans.
I made the decision to take student loans carefully. It’s a risk, because you might not graduate and then you’ll be left with thousands of dollars to pay back.
There were two mitigating factors that led me to go for it. First, you can opt for income-based repayment. Under that option, your loan payments are tied to your income. If you’re broke, your payments are small. If you’re rich, you pay more. That seems fair.
Second, if you work in the public sector or at a non-profit organization, your loans are forgiven after 10 years of repayment. (If not, they are forgiven after 20 years.)
I’m a little more than a year away from graduation. After seven years of graduate school, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a job that pays less than I made in software in my 20s. And then I’ll pay back loans for a decade.
I’ll be 50 years old when my loans are forgiven. It will affect my ability to buy a home, start a family, or save for retirement. I chose that.
Yet Trump has proposed cutting loan forgiveness for people who work in non-profit or government jobs for ten years. For students like me who already took out loans, it’s reneging on a promise.
If you want to run the government like a profit-maximizing business, maybe cutting loan forgiveness makes sense. But there are good reasons why the government should not be run like a business.
Businesses are run to maximize the profits of their shareholders. Any benefits to their customers or the wider public are incidental. The government should benefit all of us.
A healthy society is one with social mobility, where a talented, hardworking person born into poverty can rise above their class. Unless you’re a star athlete, education is the key to getting ahead. Education is not equally accessible to all.
Students from low-income families with college aspirations are already at a disadvantage for a long list of reasons. Sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab studies how the current financial aid system is skewed against the poor. For example, she finds that aid packages underestimate the actual cost of attending school, and assume that children don’t contribute financially to their parents (which many low income students do).
Loans aren’t ideal. Any measures that could allow students to graduate without crippling debt would be better. But they are something. They allow some students who could not otherwise afford it to get a college education. They promote social mobility.
I want to live in a country where talented people from poor families can still go to college. I think that makes our country better — not just in an idealistic way because of lofty morals, but in a real, tangible way that I believe we will all gain from.
I don’t think we are better when the rich stay rich because Aunt Becky can buy her kids’ way into college without them earning it, while a genius born to poor parents can’t. I think we all do better when talented people born into poor families can realize their full potential, enriching our society for all of us.
Loan forgiveness isn’t the magic bullet to achieving a perfect meritocracy, but it’s something. And it’s not a giveaway of free money — it’s an investment in a better society.