US economy

The Debate Over Canceling Student Debt


To the Editor:

Re “Students Deserve a Loan Bailout,” by Charlie Eaton, Amber Villalobos and Frederick Wherry (Opinion guest essay, May 18):

Why should I pay for your student loans? Are you going to pay my mortgage? If we really want to wipe out debt, let’s give tax amnesty to anyone who owes more than $10,000. I’d vote for that!

We saved and paid for our son to go to a state college, and he graduated with no debt. The tuition was about an eighth of the tuition at the big-name private university where I was teaching. And he got a great education and was recruited for a good job. I took some of the best classes I ever had a practically free community college.

Why should I now have to pay for the people who knew perfectly well that they were going deep into avoidable debt? I know it’s politically valuable to tell millions of people you are going to forgive their debt, but it’s not right.

Scott Hartman
San Jose, Calif.

To the Editor:

Re “Student Debt Is Crushing. Canceling It Is Still Bad Policy” (editorial, May 15):

The reasoning behind targeted rather than across-the-board cancellation of student debt, reasonable as it sounds, is flawed in two fundamental ways.

First, it fails to recognize what should be a fundamental feature of a democratic society. Education, preschool through postsecondary, should be considered a basic right. As such it should be ensured by our government and not contingent on family or personal income.

That failure leads to the second political flaw that creates resentment and divisiveness. Of course, helping those most in need first sounds reasonable. Borrowers with incomes of $100,000 struggle less than those who earn $35,000. However, that doesn’t mean that the higher earners don’t regard themselves as unduly burdened, not just with debt but also with high interest rates. That leads to “Hey what about me?” resentment.

The “you can’t help everyone, so help a few” reasoning has been a failing political strategy for Democrats for decades. That is not a recipe for a healthy democracy committed to equity and basic rights.

Arthur H. Camins
Beacon, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Your editorial arguing against universal student debt cancellation makes several excellent points. To these I would add that student loans should be thought of as an investment in the student’s future. Student loans lead to financial distress for the borrower when that investment does not pay off. Sometimes this occurs when students borrow to start a program but later drop out, leaving them with debt but no degree. Other times students graduate with credentials that do not live up to their promised labor market value.

The federal government can address these problems by scrutinizing the outcomes of programs to which it provides student loans. Colleges that produce weak outcomes should be penalized and occasionally kicked out of the loan program altogether.

The Biden administration’s proposed “gainful employment” rule is a step in the right direction, but it exempts degree programs at public and private nonprofit colleges. To fix the student loan crisis, Congress must act to hold all institutions accountable for their degrees’ financial value.

Preston Cooper
Washington
The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

To the Editor:

I agree that canceling student debt — as appealing as it may sound — is not the way to fix the problem of inequality. It is a short-term solution with a huge price tag of $321 billion.

This money could be better used to support vocational programs in high schools that prepare students for lucrative jobs and allow them to choose an alternative path right out of high school rather than college + diploma + debt.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 62 percent of high school students go on to college, and of those who do, about 40 percent drop out. So why do we encourage students to pursue a college degree as if this is the only means for personal and financial success?

Most high schools have a curriculum that prepares students for one path forward: college. To make things truly equitable, we need to create more choices in high schools so that there is another plan besides college … and debt.

Deirdre Higgins
Los Angeles
The writer has taught at the high school and college levels.

To the Editor:

The Times editorial board identified several major issues that block any whole forgiveness of student debt. As a retired educator and father of four, all of whom used student loans to help pay for their college education, I agree that the Pell grants should be doubled or perhaps even tripled.

I also believe that our state and federal governments should not be in the usury business. Student loans should be interest-free. In addition, those who enter public service occupations after graduation should have a segment of their student loan expunged.

In 1968 I received a National Defense Student Loan, and during my first few years as a public-school teacher in low-income communities, each year my loan principal was reduced by 10 percent.

The wholesale forgiveness of student loan debts would be a financial boondoggle and would also send the wrong message about fiscal responsibility. But Congress and the president can do some things to lessen the harshness of crushing student debt.

Fred Woody
Austin, Texas

To the Editor:

There is another aspect of the student debt problem that is not being addressed by government or colleges and universities. Schools of higher education suffer from bloat: too many administrators and their staffs (grinding out unnecessary and unread reports) and underutilized faculty. Many professors are making enormous salaries for teaching few classes.

If colleges and universities did what private-sector businesses do — review productivity of employees and drop “product lines” (courses) that are not profitable — students would get more education for fewer dollars, resulting in less debt.

Charles H. Gessner
Marblehead, Mass.

To the Editor:

I cannot figure out why the I.R.S. allows a parent or grandparent, or anyone, to pay only a maximum amount of $15,000 per year toward someone’s loan without incurring a gift tax. If the U.S. government were serious about collecting more money from student loans, it would waive the gift tax and allow people to donate any amount toward these debts.

Juan Gardea
South Bend, Ind.

To the Editor:

Re “Yes, We Should Cancel Student Debt, but Only for Some,” by David Brooks (column, May 6):

Please! Stop talking about forgiving student debt. Students unable to repay debt used to be able to discharge it in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy has been impaired and limited in ways that fueled the explosion of student loan indebtedness.

As Mr. Brooks observed in his thoughtful column, debt forgiveness can send terrible cultural signals and trigger a righteous backlash.

Congress needs to make it easier to file for bankruptcy if you are unable to pay your student debts. It is called a “fresh start” for a reason. Those students who received valuable diplomas will happily pay their obligations; those who couldn’t finish school or got worthless degrees can get the relief they need.

Ward Greene
Portland, Ore.
The writer is an attorney and a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy.



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