Student loan debt is on pace to pass the $1 trillion mark in the coming months, increasing at a rate of roughly $2,853 per second, according to Finaid.org.
In light of that, Moveon.org has been circulating a petition online that calls for “forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans,” in support of House Resolution 365, which would do exactly that. So far, the petition has more than 670,000 signatures.
The reason I can’t, in good conscience, sign the petition is that if we’re going to start passing out loan forgiveness, a more nuanced approach is required than just heaping all college students together and saying “all is forgiven.”
As a student, loan forgiveness originally sounded like a great idea to me. On top of the fact it would get me out of years of expensive loan payments, the petition points to the stimulating effect loan forgiveness would have on the national economy, putting hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars into people’s pockets every month, and it’s hard to argue against that line of reasoning.
The problem is that proponents of loan forgiveness are attempting to use an axe to fix a problem better suited for a scalpel. While many students, particularly those using federal subsidies or who come from low-income households, certainly deserve some relief from the crushing weight of student debt, wiping out all debt for all students strikes me as overkill.
College graduates have a significantly higher earning potential than those who don’t obtain a degree. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of nearly $30,000 more per year than their high school educated counterparts, according to 2007 census figures. Graduates may not make enough right out of school to start making payments, but that doesn’t mean they should be forgiven. It means a more balanced approach is necessary that takes into account the incrementally increasing salaries of recent grads.
Beyond that, there are already a number of ways that deserving students can have their loans forgiven. Students who volunteer, join the military or teach for a certain number of years are eligible to have portions of their student debt forgiven.
Under income-based repayment, students who struggle financially aren’t forced to pay until they reach a certain level of income and students who still owe after 25 years can have their remaining balance cancelled.
With loan default rates higher than they’ve been since 1997, according to the Department of Education, I wouldn’t attempt to argue that student loans are easy things to pay off, but because of alarming statistics like these it is more important than ever to deploy our resources wisely and to those most in need.
I realized after reading the petition that my initial urge to sign wasn’t based on critical thinking, or what would be best for students, but on my own desire to get something for free.
I would never deny that there are students who deserve to have their loans forgiven, but there also plenty of students who can afford their loan payments who would be amnestied under this plan. While it’s easy to paint this problem with a wide brush, it doesn’t seem fair to forgive the debt of such a wide swath of society when so many others are struggling just as much, if not more.
It all comes down to a basic question of fairness. Do we, as college students, deserve to have all of our debts, which we all took on knowingly, forgiven more than anyone else who is facing bills they’re having trouble paying?
As much as I’d like to say yes, for my wallet’s sake, until this petition is specifically tailored to exclude those among us who can pay, the answer is no.