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
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail