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Op-Ed: To Curb Student Debt, Reduce College Costs

Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36)

Opponents of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan are missing the mark on why it’s a bad idea.

Complaining that it is unfair to those who paid their loans, or to those who didn’t attend college, while correct, merely empowers the other side to slap back with a major dose of “whataboutism.”

What about those who don’t drive but pay road taxes? What about corporations who receive tax credits? What about these kids saddled with debt?

In a prime example of whataboutism, an emboldened Biden White House tweeted the names of Republican opponents who were forgiven pandemic relief loans that allowed them to meet payrolls.

This comparison only makes sense if you forget that businesses needed those loans to stay afloat and meet payrolls after the government forced them to close. This is much different than forgiving student loans and an insulting comparison to the many businesses who closed for good under the weight of government’s heavy hand.

The real fault with the president’s decision is that it adds, however incrementally, to inflation and does nothing to rein in college costs. In fact, it could end up increasing costs by giving schools and students the notion that, when it comes to bad economics, higher education is exempt from consequences.

For years university administrators have jacked up tuition to subsidize grandiose salaries for a burgeoning payroll of middle managers and educational bureaucrats who add nothing to undergraduate education. Good luck if you think loan forgiveness will encourage them to economize.

Lost are the days when higher education focused on in-demand skills and careers without the glitz of expansive campuses and high-end housing. College seems to have jumped from a purposeful educational challenge to a social experience where young adults pay top dollar with no assured career afterward.

If Joe Biden wants to slay the student debt dragon, he shouldn’t be feeding it.

Pennsylvania has made a start in that battle by consolidating its unreasonably priced state college system. But, at the same time, we continue to write huge subsidies for state-related schools, but without the promised lowered tuitions that were part of that bargain more than 50 years ago.

The reason state dollars represent a declining percentage of education funding isn’t because we haven’t kept contributing. It’s because they keep increasing their budgets, wracking students with tuition hikes to cover administrative extravagance. All the while, blue chip private schools amass endowments the size of some national budgets, raising the top line for tuition rates.

I don’t resent a young man or woman having their college debt forgiven. What I resent is that students yet to come will be marched into the same financial minefield. The only thing different is that we have carried off some of its wounded. The system is still broken.

When we lose sight of the purpose of higher education — the idea that it will produce productive citizens in a functioning democracy — we are funding a product, not a process. To paraphrase Thoreau, we are building our castles in the air, where they ought to be, but failing to put the foundations under them.

The reform of America’s system of higher education will require more than a one-time bailout that gives schools no incentive to lower their costs. We need a systemic restructuring that will take years to create. It’s not something that will be accomplished to meet a campaign promise in time for reelection.

Though any effort to solve this problem will be met with heavy resistance from Big Academia, it will be the right thing to do because young people will again live their dreams, not their debts. College will again be an education and not a transaction.

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