A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Forgive Us Our Student Loan Debts, As We Forgive Our Colleges Who Charge Us Too Much Causing Our Indebtedness

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite has written a recent editorial suggesting that since current student loan debt is such a problem the federal government should forgive it. She writes,

A whole generation of young Americans is at risk in this excessive borrowing. They fall further and further behind in "servicing their debt" because they have no way to keep up with the payments as many of them are unemployed or underemployed. They will delay starting marriage and families; they dare not take the risk of quitting a paying job (if they have one!) and starting their own business to create jobs, and they certainly cannot save to buy a home. They are trapped.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." (Matthew 6:12) Forgiving debt is a moral issue. Forgiving some of the worst of this student debt is crucial literally to save this American generation.

The kind of moral equality that Jesus asks us to pray for in the Lord's Prayer can be seen in Applebaum’s argument. Jesus calls on us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Forgive and be forgiven. Americans are tied together in this student debt debacle, and debt forgiveness will help the forgivers as well as those forgiven.

Currently, I'm advocating debt forgiveness. It is the moral thing to do and it is the right civic thing to do. This is what Jesus actually meant; real debts, real debtors, forgiving and forgiven. This is what government is actually about—of the people, by the people, for the people. We still have a chance to show young people that democracy can work for the common good.

Like Thistlethwaite, I too have a deep concern for student debt. Like the federal deficit, student loan debt is going to mortgage our children's futures, but I don't believe that Thistlethwaite has given us a complete picture. While I am always suspicious when people quote Jesus to prescribe what the government should do (both the religious left and the right have theocratic aspirations, though the left, and some on the right, continue to deny it), Jesus also had something to say about taking advantage of other people, which is what one can argue is happening with the ever upward spiraling cost of college tuition. Last year alone, the average cost of tuition rose 8.3%. Some of this is due to less state funding for public institutions as well as inflation, but other costs are related to making colleges less institutions of higher learning and more of creating the university as a self-contained city within itself offering students all the comforts of... well not even home can compete with these comforts.

There are other reasons for the rising costs as well, certainly some of it legitimate, while other costs are not. Indeed, it has been suggested that the government supported student loan market has created a tuition bubble in much the same way the government support (i.e. bullying) of banks making sub-prime mortagage loans created the bubble in the housing market, which continues to demonstrate the truism that when the government gets involved, money becomes no object. My point in this post is simply to say that if it is a good thing to forgive student loan debt (and I am not necessarily suggesting that it is, though I am open to the idea of at least a partial forgiveness), then the American taxpayers should not be the only ones to bear the burden. Colleges and universities need to "suck it up" as well and reduce the price of tuition.

I do not oppose sacrifice for the common good, but in attempting to solve a complex problem, it must be realized that the sacrifice should be spread around, and that also includes college students owning up to at least a portion of their incurred debt. I know many students who have little debt because they are working while they are studying or they choose to go to a college with cheaper tuition. And just for the record, our children will not be worse for it because they did not attend an Ivy League school. Where one studies is far too overblown in our society. In other words, we all make choices that will or will not involve self-sacrifice. Let's not forget those students who acted appropriately and sacrificed their preferences in order to be fiscally responsible.

And one more thing: the federal government itself could sacrifice a little as well. State governments continue to tighten things up because they absolutely have no choice. I don't see Washington DC sacrificing a whole lot. And, yes, the government does need more revenue, but it also needs to cut all across the board as well. It's not an either/or matter; it is a both/and issue.

Well, I have said enough and have likely irritated more than a few on the left and the right. But as I say, when it comes to politics I'm an equal opportunity annoyer.

I am curious as to what you the readers think? Should we forgive student loans? Should colleges reduce their tuition? Should the government get out of the student loan business? Please speak freely, honestly, and civilly.


Anonymous said...

I must admit, I'm pretty much stymied as to a solution to the problem of student debt. But I think part of the cost problem is due to the success of near-universal higher education in this country.

It's great that most people can go to college now, don't get me wrong. But let's face it, higher demand for a product (in this case, education) usually results in higher prices.

50 years ago, a college education was still pretty much the province of wealthy folks, so the demand for universities and professors was much lower. Now, most middle-class people attend college. More money chasing a product tends to drive up the price.

Another part of the problem is the increase in educated people without a corresponding increase in well-paying jobs. When I was a toddler, a college education was a virtual guarantee of financial well-being. Not so today. A college degree does not carry the same cache in the job market it once did. We all know people with all manner of degrees who are busing tables and working menial jobs, waiting for am opening in their profession that never comes.

In some places (like Ohio), a Bachelor's degree and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee. Seems to me joblessness is the biggest part of the problem. If college graduates could get a good job, they would have no problem paying off their debt. You can't do that working for minimum wage - not if you want to eat at the same time.

- Don CIrelli

Richard H said...

Other folks are thinking about such things:


A couple questions that occur to me:
1. Are students forces to take loans? Usually not. They may FEEL forced if they are attending a school that is beyond their means.
2. Do we see that our current increase in the number of college educated people is helping those people in a significant way? Are there other options we should sometimes encourage?
3. Why can't we adopt more alternative schooling methods that allow students to gain the necessary education even while making a living and paying their bills?