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
November 21, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Reports of War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan Highlight the Failures of Both Wars
Steven Gorelick
Thinking Outside the Grid
William Hartung
America’s Arms Sales Addiction
Michael Welton
Christianity is the Religion of Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
Letting the Side Down: Prince Andrew, the Royal Family and Jeffrey Epstein
Craig Collins
Open Letter to the People of Planet Earth
David Schultz
The Democratic Party’s Missing Electoral College Game Plan
Norman Solomon
Joe Biden’s AstroTurf Campaign
Bob Lord
Health Care and “Head Taxes”: an Unhealthy Combination
Steve Brown
Why Did MSNBC Spend So Much Time Bashing Gabbard?
Jesse Jackson
The Right to Vote Should not Fall Victim to Partisan Battles
Ted Rall
Billionaires and Corporations Love Anti-SLAPP Laws, Why Does John Oliver?
Priti Gulati Cox
One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, and an Impeachment
Thomas Knapp
Voters Say They Want a Third Party, They Should Vote Accordingly
Jenna Orkin
Overtunring WI v. Yoder: Making Education a Federal Right for All Children (and Bringing the MeToo Movement to Fundamentalist Communities)
November 20, 2019
Vijay Prashad
The Coup in Bolivia Has Everything to Do With the Screen You’re Using to Read This
Kenneth Surin
Labor and the UK General Election
Ron Jacobs
The Trumpists’ Attempts at Snark Define Their Day: Impeachment Day Three
George Ochenski
The Walls are Closing in on Donald Trump
Timothy M. Gill
Towards a Democratic Socialist Foreign Policy
Robert Hunziker
Neoliberalism Backfires
Thomas S. Harrington
Let’s Give Three Cheers for Those “Western Ears” 
Michelle Renee Matisons
Freedom, Valor, Love: On Snowden’s Permanent Record
James C. Nelson
How Trump is Warping the Federal Courts: the Case Against Lawrence VanDyke
Rev. William Alberts
Whistleblowing Religion
Chandra Muzaffar
The Coup That Ousted Morales
Mike Garrity
Trump Administration Ignores Court Order Stopping 85,000 Acre Payette Forest Logging and Burning Project, Conservation Groups Sue
Andrew Moss
Raising the Stakes in the Struggle Over Immigration Detention
Dean Baker
Making Andrew Yang Smarter
Lawrence Wittner
The People of the World
November 19, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
How Western Media Bias Allows Israel to Getaway with Murder in Gaza
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Kurds is Still Happening
Dave Lindorff
Student Protesters are Walking a Tightrope in Hong Kong
Richard Greeman
French Yellow Vests Celebrate First Birthday, Converge With Planned Labor Strikes
Dean Baker
Impeachment is a Kitchen Table Issue
Walden Bello
Is China an “Imperial Power” in the Image of the West?
Jim Britell
Modern Biology and Ecology: the Roots Of America’s Assertive Illiteracy
Sabri Öncü
Non-Financial Private Debt Overhang
John Steppling
Baby Shark Coup
Binoy Kampmark
Open Guidelines: The Foreign Interference Problem in Australian Universities
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Greece and the Struggle for Freedom
Colin Todhunter
Lab Rats for Corporate Profit: Pesticide Industry’s Poisoned Platter
James Graham
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn on the Eve of the Debate
Elliot Sperber
Scrutiny – From Scruta
November 18, 2019
Olivia Arigho-Stiles
Protestors Massacred in Post-Coup Bolivia
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail