Federal program that offers college loans for service could help bridge our national divide (opinion)
We have an education crisis. We also have a potential solution: a needs-based tuition program in exchange for a public service, which could wipe out much of the $ 1.5 trillion in student debt, bolster financially struggling private colleges, save money. taxpayers’ money and revive communities.
Long before COVID-19 claimed tens of thousands of lives and collapsed our economy, our education crisis was causing justified panic. Student debt has put enormous pressure on individuals, and the state’s free tuition has put many financially struggling private colleges on the brink of extinction.
COVID-19 has clearly made matters worse for students in debt and collapsing colleges. But the proposed solutions have their own problems.
Some politicians simply advocate writing off unpaid student debt; others charge free tuition at state colleges and universities. In neither case, however, is the return to the public on this investment close to what a national service program would provide.
While tuition fees are free in a number of European countries, a significantly lower percentage of students go to university in these countries and the tax rates there are 20 to 60% higher than in those countries. United States. It is important to note that these countries have few or no private colleges and universities.
Nothing is really free; someone still has to pay. The question is who? In the case of debt forgiveness or free schooling, the public, through increased taxes, pays. If the public is to pay, they should receive a significant return on that investment. The service provides this feedback.
Supporters of student debt cancellation and free tuition neglect two key points: They do not sufficiently consider the true financial costs involved and the missed opportunity to transform communities across the country.
The implementation of free tuition fees for state colleges adds costs to states, at a time when states are ill-prepared to manage them, and pressure on private colleges which in many cases were barely financially viable before COVID-19. If this pressure leads to the closure of colleges – which undoubtedly will be – students will go elsewhere.
Where will they go? Some could end up in other private colleges. Most, however, will go to public institutions, which will need to add buildings and staff to cope with the increasing size of their student body. In other words, the cost to taxpayers will increase.
A better solution, the one the federal government first used successfully 75 years ago, can transform lives today, as it did then. From 1944 to 1956, the GI Bill of Rights sent countless numbers of military personnel to colleges – private and public colleges. The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers full tuition fees at public colleges and up to $ 25,000 in tuition fees at private institutions.
In the past, federal programs also offered free classes to doctors or teachers who agreed to work in underserved geographies. Thus, students have long received tuition fees in return for past or future service.
Federation of Legsilation currently under study would increase national service programs to 300,000 participants. While these participants would be used to engage in contact tracing for COVID-19, the legislation could easily be changed to revert to the model of previous federal programs and provide for the cancellation of participants’ existing student debt.
During my years as quorum president, I used these models and implemented a need-based, service-linked cancellable loan program. If a graduate entered the civil service – broadly defined to include government or military service, nonprofit organizations, or education – the loan provided by the college was reduced by 20 percent for each year of service. After five years, the debt was therefore eliminated.
Perhaps now is the time to revisit this concept nationally, rather than simply eradicating debt or offering free tuition. In addition to enabling college graduates to realize their dreams instead of making career choices for financial reasons, a federal cancellable loan program would strengthen our nation.
The federal government could even tie the same approach to the debt accumulated by older graduates by establishing a program that allows them to pay off this debt through volunteer work. While it presents additional challenges, such an approach could work, with the National Guard’s weekend and summer program serving as a useful model.
By bringing together people of all origins, ethnicities and geographies, a loan-to-service program could also help bridge our deep national divide. In the process, our communities and our country would be made stronger, which we certainly need in the wake of COVID-19.
A cancellable, needs-based, service-linked loan program would be a win for everyone. Students would attend university tuition-free. Fewer private colleges would collapse. States would have to spend less to accommodate transferred students and communities would be strengthened. Now more than ever, we could use this victory for everyone.