President Biden has announced plans to reduce existing student loan debt that was administered by Uncle Sam by $10,000 to $20,000.
It will lighten the burden of many. The average borrower owes around $37,000, which takes a long time to repay.
My heart, however, goes out to those students who made sacrifices to avoid racking up debt in the first place.
Like Mike C., one of my freshman roommates (we tripled), whose financial aid included a job at the school grill. He worked hard at this job and at summer jobs, which enabled him to pay tuition and board.
Jobs, scholarships and grants are forms of aid. But a loan is just a debt. This should not be considered “help”.
The idea of borrowing is repugnant to people like me who have an aversion to debt. Although I didn’t borrow for college, I made tough decisions to stay within my budget.
For example, I did not apply to any private school. Only public schools. Had I been willing to borrow, I would have applied to Sarah Lawrence College, whose writing program and small student body appealed to me.
Instead, I opted for a state university, where an applying student receives a quality education. (Those who don’t apply themselves don’t belong to the college in the first place.)
To accommodate more students, the university offered a discount to freshmen who tripled in a dormitory meant for two. I accepted the offer, just to save money. As I was the smallest, I ended up on the top half of a double bunk bed.
Soon I realized that money could be saved by cutting back on the meal plan. The full plan was 20 meals a week (Sunday was just brunch and dinner), but I could get by on less. So I removed lunch from my meal plan.
Tons of college students slept through breakfast every day, wasting their parents’ money — or wasting borrowed money — on meals they would never eat. Those chronic late risers should have given up on breakfast.
For full-time students, the school charged tuition per semester, not per course credit. I calculated that by taking an additional course each semester, I could graduate in seven semesters instead of eight. And save a full semester’s worth of tuition (and room and board). So I increased my course load.
After two years in school, I found other savings by leaving campus. I had a studio to myself in a single occupancy hotel where some floors had been converted into dormitories. No more meal plan! It allowed me to eat what I wanted, when I wanted. My “kitchen” was a tea kettle, a single burner hot plate and a pot for heating canned vegetables. No counter. Cooked on the ground.
A rented mini fridge completed the installation. I filled it with cottage cheese, cream cheese, peanut butter, celery, and carrots. And always kept bananas and bread handy.
Leaving campus meant that I was about four miles from school, so I had to be careful with travel time. The school provided an excellent (and free) bus service, to help students get away from the main campus shuttle.
Only a small percentage of the buses went to my house, but that was okay. Any of the buses took me about a mile from my destination, and I could walk the rest of the way.
Wealthier students had cars and didn’t have to worry about bus schedules.
I worked hard to avoid student debt. So I’m not a fan of Biden’s plan. But let it be. I can accept it.
I just wish, however, that the government would drop the student loan business.
It seems to me that one of the main reasons schools charge so much is because they know that whatever the bill, the student can borrow money from the government.
Give up government loans and schools will be forced to lower their prices to maintain enrollment levels. Even if it means offering less luxury.
Without government loans, students determined to get an education and in need of “help” can always try to borrow from a bank.
A guy I know never graduated (couldn’t be bothered with class work) but borrowed money for six years in college, because for him it was easier to borrow and live on campus and be fed and housed than leaving school and entering the real world.
The government continued to lend him money.
A maxim I learned as a teenager: “He who lends to whom borrows shows great goodwill but little wisdom.”
Our government is showing great goodwill.