There have been many good arguments made — mostly from conservatives — against cancelling large chunks of debt that former college students racked up pursuing their education.
Such a write-off would be tremendously expensive, with estimates of up to $1 trillion, depending on the size of the write-off.
It would be unfair, penalizing those who sacrificed to pay off their student loans while rewarding those who perhaps borrowed more than they should have.
It would further remove restraints on the cost of college, which has for decades been rising faster than the rate of inflation in part because of the easy availability of credit to students and their families for college.
It would encourage current and future students to renege on their loan repayment, assuming that if the number gets high enough, Congress or the president will again ride to their rescue and cancel the debt
All of those are sound reasons to reject the idea of student debt forgiveness. But here comes another. Though offered by a conservative, the argument should resonate with liberals, too. Forgiving this debt with no strings attached, says Michael J. Petrilli, would end up hurting the very people that liberals say they are most concerned about.
Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think thank that focuses on education issues, notes that there are already several ways for those coming out of college or graduate school to get some or all of their student debt forgiven. In fact, the Mississippi Legislature this year is considering the creation of a new program that would pay off $10,500 in student debt over three years for a new teacher, increasing the amount to $16,500 if the teacher works in a critical needs area, such as the Delta.
There are all kinds of programs like these in the country, and not just for teachers. Similar incentives exist for doctors, nurses and lawyers who will commit to work in an area where their services are in short supply. Loan forgiveness is also an effective recruiting tool used by the military.
If the federal government decides to forgive student debt without any strings attached, as President Biden and several other Democrats are proposing, these recruiting efforts will suffer. So, too, will the impoverished or rural areas that benefit from the services of professionals who might not have come there otherwise.
As Petrilli concludes, the burden of student debt is real. Cancelling this debt outright, though, would be blowing an opportunity. Instead, the country should expand on the idea of providing loan forgiveness in exchange for working in underserved areas. That would help the debtor while improving the quality of life in areas of the country where schools struggle, health care is substandard and legal services are beyond most residents’ means.
Let the debtors earn their way out of the hole by helping their country tackle some of its toughest problems.