FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

We Can Free a Generation From Burden of College Loan Debt

Photograph Source: David Shankbone – CC BY 3.0

The reaction — shock, joy, disbelief, euphoria — revealed the importance of Robert F. Smith’s stunning gift, when he announced, unexpectedly, that he would pay off all the college debts of Morehouse College students graduating this year.

His gift literally changed the prospects and the lives of the vast majority of those 396 graduates.

Morehouse is a proud, historically black college, the alma mater of extraordinary leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Julian Bond, Howard Thurman, Maynard Jackson, former head of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, former head of the black caucus Cedric Richmond, Hollywood legends Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee, Olympic champion Edwin Moses and many more.

Full-time tuition costs $25,368, with room and board and other expenses, a year at Morehouse can cost nearly $50,000. Ninety percent of Morehouse students get some kind of financial aid, cobbling together Pell grants, federal and private loans, family loans and more.

Morehouse seniors who borrow to pay for college carry an average of $26,000 in federal student loans. Private loans, federal Parent Plus loans, credit card and other debts are on top of that. The federal student loans alone would result in a monthly payment of $276.

Robert F Smith’s generosity has literally transformed the lives of those students. Now instead of putting off graduate school or being forced to live at home, and later postponing marriage and children, they are free to benefit from the hard work they have done to graduate from college. They can seek jobs that they want, without being forced to take one or more that can help them pay down their loans. They are free to dream.

Many of those benefiting from Smith’s remarkable generosity expressed what one student, Myles Washington, called a “level of survivor’s guilt.” All had friends who could not afford to go to college, or who were forced to withdraw early in the face of growing debts.

Robert F. Smith is a billionaire, the brilliant founder of Vista Equity Partners, who has made a fortune largely in purchasing and selling software firms. Raised in Denver, the child of two parents with Ph.D.s, he graduated from Cornell and later got his MBA at Columbia. His gift to the Morehouse students is only a small part of his philanthropy, which has included major support for Cornell, his alma mater, and for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as his service as chair to The Board of Carnegie Hall and much more.

With this gift, he has set a standard for others of great wealth. He has, as he put it at the Morehouse commencement, “paid it forward,” by freeing the potential of young graduates.

His gift should also rouse Congress to redress the folly of shackling the best of the young generation with often unpayable debt simply to get the education this country says they need.

Student loan debt now totals over $1.5 trillion. After home mortgages, it is the largest source of debt, exceeding car loans and credit card debts. Almost two-thirds of all students are forced to borrow to pay for college; they end with an average debt of nearly $29,000. The debt of African-American students is, on average, $7,400 more than that of white students, reflecting the wealth gap that has built up over years of slavery, segregation and housing and employment discrimination.

Democratic presidential candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are calling for making public colleges tuition-free. Warren has put forth a detailed plan to pay off a substantial portion of existing student loans. Some like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) say we can’t afford to do that. But we are a wealthier country than Germany, yet college there is free.

This is a question of priorities not resources. The number of corporations that pay nothing in taxes has doubled under Donald Trump’s tax cut. The cost of that tax cut, most of which went to the already wealthy, is estimated at $1.7 trillion over 10 years. That alone would have been able to pay off all current student debts.

Robert Smith’s generous promise should goad all of us into action. It is a personal tragedy and a national folly to burden an entire generation with often unpayable loans simply to get an education. We all benefit from a well-educated, active population. We all suffer when an entire generation is locked into debt from the day they get out of college.

Smith has freed nearly 400 Morehouse graduates from that burden. We should demand that Congress act to offer every student that relief.

 

More articles by:

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs
George Wuerthner
Montana’s Wilderness Deficit
Colin Todhunter
Officials Ignore Pesticides and Blame Alcohol and Biscuits for Rising Rates of Disease
Volker Franke
Me First and the Loss of Compassion
Adolf Alzuphar
Why is the Left Without a Single Elected Official in LA?
Kim C. Domenico
All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace A Chance (Bring It Home!)
Jennifer Matsui
The End of Aquarius and The Dawn of a Death Star: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Missy Comley Beattie
Never Forget
James Haught
Prodding ‘Nones’ to Vote
David Swanson
For the First Time in My Life I’m Against Impeaching the President
Nicky Reid
Yemen as Arabian Vietnam
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb
Fred Gardner
Homage to the Tabloids
Yves Engler
RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy
Stephen Cooper
Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected”
David Yearsley
Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail