Embattled New York governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a $125 million student-loan-forgiveness program. At least 50,000 former students from the CUNY system experiencing financial hardship would have their burden of outstanding student-loan debt alleviated. The proposal has been only part of the recent trend of policymakers’ advocating for large-scale student loan forgiveness. The Washington Post reports that, absurdly, Democrats’ “victory” in extending the CDC eviction moratorium has caused them to consider anew unilaterally extending student-loan-debt forgiveness.
As of 2021, Americans owe collectively $1.7 trillion of student-loan debt. It is perfectly reasonable to empathize with students who are burdened by a crippling amount of debt fresh out of college. Many of them graduate from college, hopeful and confident that their academic credentials would be translated into viable career paths, only to realize that the competition for jobs is fiercer than anticipated and that they have no means of paying their debt off. However, despite the students’ plight, student-loan-cancellation programs should not be the solution.
Canceling student loans is hardly a fair solution. When students consciously take out loans to fund their pursuits of higher education, they are making an investment on an individual level with the belief that education would broaden their prospective career paths, and that in the long run, the financial gain from a successful career would be greater than the loan repayments. Before deciding to take out a student loan, students should reasonably have considered the material risk of not being able to secure employment.
Adults ought to bear the responsibility of their own actions. It is important that the government consider whether or not helping individuals escape from the financial responsibilities they had voluntarily assumed in self-investment with taxpayer money is justifiable.
Cuomo’s student-loan-cancellation plan is funded by federal stimulus funds through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which in turn was extracted from the taxpayers’ pockets. In 2019, the college enrollment rate of 18-to-24-year-olds was 41 percent. According to the 2018 census, only 61.28 percent of Americans have attended “some college.” Furthermore, studies have found that households with annual income exceeding $114,000 take out loans twice as large in amount but at the same rate as students from the lowest income bracket. 40 percent of the total student-loan debt is owed by students who have attained advanced degrees, such as lawyers and doctors, who on average earn a comfortable living. It seems peculiar that a government program providing financial assistance should disproportionately benefit citizens who are relatively well-off, and such data further raise the question of whether student-loan forgiveness should be considered a fair and sensible redistribution of financial resources. Should taxpayers who never attended college help fund the education of those who chose to? Should prospective students, seeing the government’s tendency to generously forgive student loans, be induced to expect the government to bail them out from their miscalculations? Should they be led to have an unduly low perception of risk of taking out loans to finance their education?
As established, Cuomo’s student-loan-forgiveness program, like other proposed programs of the same nature, is at best questionable and at worst unjustified. However, the problem of excessive student-loan-debt burden remains. If student loan forgiveness isn’t the answer, what is?
One of the more obvious solutions has to be implemented on the individual level — just don’t go to college if it is not likely to yield significant gain. The myth that one must obtain a bachelor’s degree to have the remotest possibility of becoming successful has long been entrenched in contemporary social consciousness. Observing the contemporary mainstream perception of education, it appears as though, as the perception of success becomes more monolithic, higher education is increasingly viewed as indispensable, and the only respectable option to pursue after high school. As a result, most high-school graduates do not consider alternative options to college, such that many students are not making informed and independent decisions when they decide to assume debt to attend college.
The harsh truth, however, is that knowledge amassed from attaining a degree in humanities is often applicable only in considerably narrow fields such as education and academia that have limited demand for labor. It is essential that prospective students not only realistically assess their career prospects and their ability to repay student loans upon graduation, but also consider alternatives to college. After all, life is brimful of opportunities. By making rational decisions based on individual circumstances instead of going with the flow, one may end up in a more comfortable situation than being waist-deep in debt.