OPINION: Student loan forgiveness rewards unwise decision-making, not hard work

Many students I’ve met at the University of Alabama made similar decisions to leave their families on the East Coast or Midwest in search of more affordable education elsewhere.

Wyatt Eichholz is a Senior Alabama Campus Correspondent, reporting liberal bias and abuse on college campuses. He is a student at the University of Alabama studying economics. Wyatt is also Vice President for the UA Young Americans for Freedom chapter and produces a podcast for the RUF ministry at UA.

The University of Alabama wasn’t the first school on my list as a high school senior. 

I spent months applying to schools all over the country, especially in the Midwest, searching for places close to my home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that also offered programs in economics.

Marquette University, my dad’s alma mater, was one of the closest options on my list. The University of Wisconsin would have been a great in-state school at which to pursue a career in economics, as well.

But neither of those options could come close to the scholarship offer I received from Alabama.

The scholarship package offered by Alabama afforded me the opportunity to pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees with no student loan debt. In contrast, Marquette, a private Jesuit school in Milwaukee was prohibitively expensive; even Wisconsin’s flagship public university would have left me on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars per year. 

So even though it meant packing up my CRV and trekking about fourteen hours one-way, Alabama was clearly the best choice for my own, and my family’s, financial situation.

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My experience is similar to that of many of my friends at the University of Alabama. Many students I’ve met here made similar decisions to leave their families on the East Coast or Midwest in search of more affordable education elsewhere, made possible by Alabama’s generous scholarships.

Families across the country face dilemmas like this every year: whether to send kids to expensive, prestigious institutions, or more affordable schools; four-year universities or community colleges. 

Some parents make sacrifices earlier in life to put away savings for a college fund. And this doesn’t even include those who decline to attend a post-secondary institution and instead focus on learning a specialized trade or skill right out of high school. 

The common denominator is that everyone understands how crippling college debt can be later in life, and some families do what they can to help their kids avoid taking on student loans.

These families, as well as my own, are left scratching our heads at the Biden Administration’s latest announcement to “forgive” $10,000 of outstanding student loan debt per qualified borrower. 

While I take no pleasure in the crippling debt burden facing so many young people in this country, the solution that Biden has opted for is perhaps the least fair or effective way to address the problem.

[RELATED: OPINION: Why I sacrificed to pay back my student loans]

Many Americans have already asked the common questions: What about those who already paid off their student loans? What about families who sacrificed in order to save for college in advance? Or those who chose not to go to college at all? Do these individuals and families get any credit for being fiscally responsible, living within means and making wise life choices in order to avoid debt? 

The “progressive” answer, personified by Elizabeth Warren back on the 2020 campaign trail, is a resounding “of course not.”

Biden’s plan amounts to little more than a bribe to what is statistically a very blue demographic: college-educated millennials. Figures from the Education Data Initiative show that 34% of adults 18-29 have student loan debt. It should be no surprise then that, according to 2020 Pew Research, 54% of millennials  “identify with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic,” and only 38% “identify with or lean to the GOP.”

In other words, Biden very well might be forgiving student loan debt (as opposed to mortgages, car loans, or credit card debt) because student loan borrowers are a target-rich environment for progressives. 

As I reported for Campus Reform this summer, A Data for Progress poll found that 45% of respondents would be more likely to vote for Biden if he canceled $10,000 in student debt.

Is this policy really about fairness or opportunity for all? Or is it about transferring wealth to a preferred voting demographic in advance of a highly-contested midterm season?

What makes this proposal truly intolerable is the fact that it does nothing to actually address the root causes of the student debt crisis. At best, forgiveness is a band-aid solution. Without structural reform, thousands of students will continue to borrow while tuition prices continue to climb.

As long as the federal government disrupts normal market forces by encouraging and underwriting unsound borrowing, the debt crisis will continue to worsen.

As Jonathan Butcher explained for Campus Reform four months ago, a truly effective change in policy requires phasing out federal loan programs while replacing them with alternative financing options like income-sharing agreements.

When faced with the stark realities of a problem as widespread as the student debt crisis, it is easy to feel the urge to ‘do something.’ However, merely throwing money at a problem isn’t a real solution, and more often than not it’s likely to have unintended consequences. 

It is utterly irresponsible that the Biden Administration would deploy such a haphazard strategy merely to score a quick political win in advance of the midterm elections, but it is not at all surprising. 

And those Americans who made sacrifices to protect their own financial futures will be the ones to pay the price.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.