Politicians often put Band-Aids on problems rather than address their root causes. It’s always tempting to make your constituents happy now and pass the burden to future generations. Such is the case with the disastrous plan to “forgive” student loan debt.
Everyone agrees that something must be done about skyrocketing costs at colleges and universities. Second only to mortgage debt, student loan debt has grown approximately 157% in the past 11 years to $1.6 trillion.
Many on the left such as Senator Elizabeth Warren have called for as much as $50,000 of debt per student to be forgiven. She and others have also proposed universal “tuition-free” college. These policies are dangerously misguided.
First, the policies are regressive. According to a recent study from the University of Chicago, full college debt forgiveness would distribute $192 billion to the top 20% of earners while only giving $29 billion to the bottom 20%.
These plans also transfer the burden to millions of taxpayers who have worked hard to pay off their student loans, especially those who scrimped and saved and those who were employed during school to pay for them. In turn, those former students would be forced to foot the bill for people who did not make such sacrifices. The people who make these cost-saving decisions often come from lower-income backgrounds, while those who rack up expensive debt by attending private and out-of-state schools are typically from affluent families.
Instead of forgiving student debt and tolerating the superfluity that is now common in higher education, we need to cut costs. We must attack the growing monster of administrative bloat.
Between 1993 and 2007, administrative costs increased an outrageous 61.2%, while instructional costs increased 39.3%. According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, noninstructional spending at colleges and universities from 2016 to 2017 exceeded the gross domestic product of 134 countries. We have seen the explosion of vice presidents, counselors, diversity coaches, and all kinds of administrative staff. Someone must supervise the addition of climbing walls, spectacular gyms, and the now-ubiquitous “safe spaces.” Some administrators now see their mission to be more political than educational, and the student ends up funding their ideological initiatives.
Some schools, however, are better stewards of their students’ money than others. According to How Colleges Spend Money, Williams College, for example, spends a respectable 28% on administrative costs compared to its peer institutions’ average of 34%. Another peer among private colleges, Davidson College, spends a costly 46% on administrative costs.
But students must also take some responsibility. While many fields of study may be interesting, certain majors offer students little chance of gainful employment. By finishing with a major in “Comic Art,” “Foresight,” and the ever-present “Gender and Sexuality Studies,” the likelihood of finding a job in these fields that pays the bills is low. Upon graduation, many cannot repay their student loans and now plead with the taxpayers to bail them out. Perhaps they ought to have studied “Foresight” before they chose a major.
Everyone agrees that student loans are financially crippling many people in this country. But the far Left’s plan evinces a failure to comprehend the problem. Absolving debts does not make them magically vanish. It just forces others, many who toiled to pay off debt, to pay for them.
Debt cancellation will only encourage colleges to continue implementing the same bloat and inefficient initiatives that have driven up costs so much already. Rather than placing a Band-Aid on the problem of student debt, why don’t we cure the underlying disease?
The lazy rivers need to dry up. No college should spend more than 25% of tuition dollars on administrative costs and expect to receive federal aid. Stop the playgrounds. Stop the bubble life. Stop funding the fantasy. European universities manage without doing those things.
Life is hard, and college should prepare students for it without crippling them out of the gate. Colleges must become better stewards of their students’ futures.
Rep. Greg Murphy represents North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. He is a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and a former member of the Davidson College board of trustees.