Editorial: A step in the right direction

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$10,000 is a lot of money. But how much of a difference does it make for students in debt?

It’s undeniable that President Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan will help millions of Americans who are struggling to afford higher education. The executive order, signed on Aug. 24, will provide much-needed relief to the 45 million Americans who cumulatively owe over $1.6 trillion in student loan payments.

This editorial does not include much new information on the plan’s logistics and short-term impact, as our News department has already covered the most pertinent details.

It will, however, address the plan’s long-term efficacy.

As previously stated, $10,000, or $20,000 for Pell-Grant recipients, is a potentially life-altering amount of aid for those burdened with student loan debt. Still, what happens to the next generation of college students who don’t have access to the same relief?

The White House brief of the executive order went into great detail about Biden’s three-step plan to make student loan payments more manageable for those already in debt.

Some of the changes to the federal loan system include reducing the amount that borrowers have to pay each month from 10 percent to 5 percent of their discretionary income and covering the monthly interest for on-time loan payments.

There’s just one small problem with the White House’s line of reasoning: people are still going into debt!

Reforming the Department of Education’s federal loan program is the extent of the Executive Branch’s power without congressional support. Though, this order is only mitigating one aspect of a much larger problem within the United States: college is too expensive, and it’s only getting pricier every year.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the price of public and private universities has increased by an average of $20,000 since 1980 after adjusting for inflation.

Gone are the days when a student could pay for their own college education via hard work, dedication and a minimum wage job. Now, many full-time students must balance a part-time job along with their studies just to stay afloat.

Private universities, Lehigh included, do offer a wide range of financial aid packages to low-income students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a college education. However, many students fall into a financial “No man’s land,” meaning they earn too much to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to afford tuition.

What do these people turn to? Federal loans.

The root of the issue is simple: for-profit universities need to make a profit. Professors and administrators need to be paid, buildings need to be built and amenities need to be purchased. There needs to be some sort of income. 

It would be naive and utopianistic to claim the solution is to make all colleges free for everyone at all times. The issue is obviously more complex than that, as that fix would completely disregard any sort of financial model. 

However, for-profit private institutions need to undergo a fundamental shift in mindset if this issue is ever going to be addressed.

Universities are not meant to be an instrument of wealth for those who run them. The purpose of any institution of higher learning is to educate the next generation. That’s all. 

This may, and undoubtedly will, include some level of profit for the reasons already described. After all, schools rely on money. But at their core, universities must understand that we don’t work for them.

It is unknown how or when this shift will occur, and whether it will be a result of public sentiment, congressional action or economic necessity. What is clear, though, is that the system must change, or else college campuses will become emptier and richer, while the country becomes the opposite.

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1 Comment

  1. Nothing wrong or unusual about college kids working part time & taking loans to defray cost of school as long as they major in something useful after graduation.

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