Student loans: You get what you give, a modest proposal
Is there a sustainable solution to the problem of unaffordable college tuition? In the spirit of an American hustle, there are institutions of higher learning offering attractive incentives, such as free laptops and refund checks for scholarship money that goes towards costs higher than tuition.
Imagine picking your college or university based on how much cash back you get, or what kind of “free” computer they are giving out. Something doesn't seem quite right about this.
Now, as well, our President and Congress have jumped into the game, by proposing to “forgive” student loan debt.
At first, college loan forgiveness from the government seems more legitimate than online schools giving away rebate checks and free computers.
Are signing bonuses or “forgiving” a debt a good lesson for the future leaders of America?
Is “money for nothing” a good lesson for our children?
Is this the way of the future? What's next? Erasing car loans? Mortgages? Wouldn't it be great if we could all live for free, while we sit on our couches, binging on Netflix and posting selfies to Instagram and TikTok?
Should we be teaching our children to hunt down free money and perks? Or signing on the dotted line for an unaffordable student loan because maybe our president will make that go away before you have to make a single payment?
Is there a better way? I would like to offer a modest proposal.
While no ‘game’, providing student loan relief has become yet another political football. In the latest Biden news, our president has come up with a plan to make paying back college loans easier for qualifying students. While we are not at all anti-Joe Biden, his plan is somewhat problematic.
President Biden’s Loan Forgiveness legislation is ping-ponging among the White House, Congress, The Supreme Court, and the “court” of public opinion. Not much there if you are starting higher education in the Fall, or carry the anvil of student debt.
Partisan politics and optics continue to reign and seem to have foreclosed finding a plan that could be acceptable to all these parties, maybe you and me too.
Refund checks and free laptops vs student loan forgiveness.
On one side, there is a plan from our president to give free money to some, but not all students and their families. On another front, there are savvy kids and their parents hunting down schools willing to give them a hefty refund check and a laptop, just for showing up.
Kickbacks to students are reminiscent of accident victims getting a cash kickback from their chiropractor and personal injury attorney. Yet cash and computer or wiping out student debt without something in return from the student are not our only options.
Why have we not seen surface in the rip tides about student loans the not new notion: public service as a means to reduce indebtedness while also giving back to our country? As a means to spare students the crushing financial burden of paying off their loan plus its compounded interest, the debt apt to go on without a horizon.
Multiple scientific studies reveal that the stress of carrying a large debt (tens of thousands dollars and years of interest on the loan) is associated with mental and addiction problems.
There is a way – with non-partisan, common ground - morally and optically – to do the right thing. To bridge diverse opinions, in Washington DC and in your hometown, to set an example of a step needed to bring our country back from its wrenching divisiveness.
We would like to thank you for your service with a college education.
How many of us hew to the principal of “you give, and you get”? A principle that would help create important educational and public service opportunities; a solution acceptable, collectively, to the three branches of our federal government, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, because of an obligation for public service?
We already have a National Health Services Corps making community and professional services obligatory for awarding scholarships for education and training, without the liability of debt. That’s getting and giving (back). There are millions of younger Americans who would see that service is better than interest accruing loans, even a MacBook Pro.
In my (far) past, public universities, medical, and dental schools had low-cost tuitions (in the thousands, not the tens of thousands of dollars); some had only administrative fees, at a fraction of the cost of tuition.
But we also had the “Draft,” dating back to 1940, when law required all men aged 21 to 36, to register for the draft. WWII broadened eligibility to 18-37. If your lottery number came up, you were going to do at least one year of service in the armed forces. In 1945, when the war ended, there were 50 million men (aged eighteen to forty-five) registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted in the military.
I was drafted during the Vietnam War and served for two years as a doctor in an impoverished county terribly short of medical care (especially psychiatric services, my specialty). I was obliged to provide public service due my country. I was giving for what I had received: I lived in a time when a municipal college (the first in my family) and a state medical school were affordable for me.
What surprised me the most was that the two years of service I spent in rural, northern Maine were the best education I could have, with all due respect for medical school, internship, and residency. That was where I learned about the lives and needs of the not-so-fortunate, and how much could be done with very limited resources.
Providing service to others is the pathway to an education beyond anything a university can provide on campus.
For two years I escaped the conveyor belt of an academic medical center. I learned about families and communities, not just lab tests and x-rays (of course, a part of good medical care, but not enough). It’s not the tests, but the patients and their lives that are at the heart of good medicine. The famed Dr. William Osler (1849-1917) was teaching us when he remarked, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”
I have not done badly with my affordable, public college and medical training. So could so many others whose commitment to public service could cover a good part of the bill for their training, and open doors to a professional or technical career. Thank you, Uncle Sam.
The modest proposal.
If not yet clear, my modest proposal is to make loan forgiveness contingent on serving, on giving back. A fully blossomed National Health Services Corps, or the like. A program of service rooted in the principle of “you get, and you give.”
If I am an example, I learned from giving to understand what we now call the “social determinants of illness”, the where, how, and why of my patients and their families, so I could treat the person with the disease, which always works better.
This modest proposal could meet values on both sides of the political “aisle”, maybe in the balcony as well. Where an old-fashioned principle could very well be the common ground we can support, in this case, service to fund and support a career in human services. Where giving back is inextricably linked to getting. It’s a two-way street.
Why is this idea not on the “loan forgiveness” table? We need to replace “forgiveness”, a beaten and often accusatory term, with the principal that we all get and we all give, nothing to be ashamed of there.