As a new enrollee at Illinois Valley Community College, I'm already experiencing the perks of higher education — college, afterall, is the land of opportunity. But one thought lingers in my mind: the price tag. It's a spectre that looms over the heads of most students, as well as most Americans in the form of student debt.
Gone are the days where a full-time contract with a minimum-wage job can suffice to pay one’s way through university. While median household income has stagnated, tuition costs have only risen exponentially. The result: we have entered the Gilded Age of higher education, where taking a five-figure loan has become the expected first step toward earning a degree and a living — but there is hope for reform.
Popularized by polarizing senators and presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the plan to forgive federal student loan debt would target the roughly 45 million Americans currently saddled with student debt. Together, their debt totals nearly $1.6 trillion and averages around $38,000 per borrower. At a time when nearly 80% of Americans report living paycheck to paycheck, and one in 20 are working multiple jobs to get by, the ramifications are certainly being felt by the working class. The progressive senators’ visions each offer relief to these Americans in crisis, but differ slightly on the details. Sanders’s plan favors universality, eliminating all existing student debt for everyone, regardless of income. His campaign promotes implementing a Wall Street transaction tax to fund such an ambitious investment, which it projects would generate over $2.4 trillion in new revenue in the first decade, allowing further subsidization of his comprehensive education-reform package.
Senator Warren’s plan differs in means and scope, focusing the most aid to those earning less than $100,000 annually, and with aid phasing out for those beyond that income level; the plan caps loan forgiveness at $50,000 per borrower. Her plan would be funded through the implementation of an “ultra-millionaire tax” for the top-percentile of income earners, and would cancel $640 billion of federal student loan debt. Regardless of methodology, both Senators’ goal is simple: to ease the burden on the American student, making it easier for them to move on to bigger and better things.
The plan could provide a jumpstart for our struggling economy. The Levy Economics Institute reports an estimated economic stimulus of up to $108 billion annually following the one-time investment, as well as innumerable other benefits in the form of increased consumer spending, the expansion of homeownership, and a spur in job creation and the resulting effects on unemployment. Senator Sanders’s campaign predicts a similar trend in economic momentum, with a boost of $1 trillion to the nation's economy over the first decade and the creation of nearly 1.5 million new jobs annually.
Student debt is a ball and chain to Americans of many creeds, shackling them to five-figure loans few have the means of paying off. Our students are growing into increasingly hostile economic territory, with nearly half of college students reporting struggling with food security and the ever-inflating cost of housing — their plight cannot afford to be drowned-out by misplaced moralizing over “personal responsibility” and the viability of trade schools. Of course, student debt forgiveness would only be the first step toward a wider goal: systemic change is what Americans need and what many are fighting for. We must work toward an America that incentivizes the pursuit of higher education, not which punishes it.
We didn’t bat an eye when our government allocated over $2 trillion toward the Trump administration’s tax cuts. We shouldn’t think twice about an investment in our nation’s future leaders.
KELBY SWANSON is an Ottawa Township High School graduate. He is looking to study psychology and philosophy at Illinois Valley Community College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.