Opinion: Why Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Is A Terrible Idea, And College May Be Too

By Dewey Finn | Published

federal student loan forgiveness

It took me three years to get my associates degree. When I started I had lots of friends, when I finished I had none. I had no credit to use for a loan and neither did anyone in my family. What happened? I turned down student loans and worked my way through college.

I grew up poor. Not “oh we only can afford to get a new car once every five years poor” that middle class people who want to play victim lay claim too. I was actually poor. Food stamps, government cheese (which is better than you’d think) and minimum wage poor. I was the first person in my family to attend any college of any kind, and it wasn’t much of a kind. The best I could do was community college and even that, was a pretty big deal for my family. They had no money to give assistance, I had no credit or the right skin color to get a significant loan, and so that meant if I wanted more than the barely getting by life everyone else in my sphere was living, it was up to me to get it. So I did.

I worked forty hours a week through my years at community college and squeezed in as many classes as I could around that. Most nights I didn’t get home til after midnight and most mornings I started the day at 5am. I lived on the couch in my Aunt’s apartment so I wouldn’t have to pay rent. I drove a broken down, barely running Geo Prism because it saved money on gas. I bought my clothes at Goodwill. Every semester I frantically saved money to have enough to pay for the next semester. My life was nothing but work, school, work school. I was twenty and hadn’t been on a date with a girl, because I never went anywhere where I could actually meet one. My friends eventually stopped calling because I had no time to see them. I didn’t even watch any TV shows, I hear there was some show called Lost everyone else was excited about back then.

When I was finished I was exhausted, but had an associates degree which was just barely enough to get my foot in the door for an interview with an engineering company. Though they normally hired only employees with a bachelor’s degree, I aced the interview and they gave me a shot. My life was off and running, I was debt free, and it only took three years of hell to get it.

Now, America is considering nullifying all my effort and sacrifices in favor of giving a free ride to the college students around me who slept in til noon and wandered into class with a hangover while I was out hauling heavy boxes in a warehouse. Those students, mostly the children of upper middle class parents who bought them new cars for their sixteenth birthday, chose a different path. Theirs was a path where they took freely handed out loans which were going to be obviously impossible to pay back, so they could sit on their ass and have fun. At least it looked fun, when I ran past them in a rush to get to work after history class.

Now, years later America is debating whether to reward those loan-taking slackers by taking tax dollars from me and giving money to them. In essence, I’m being taxed for making my own opportunities in the face of adversity while the privileged elite get even more privilege. Now imagine all the people who chose not to go to college, and instead took on jobs doing backbreaking manual labor. You’re taking money from them, too.

Using tax dollars to pay off the loans of formerly lazy students turned lazy adults is obviously and inherently unfair. However, as anyone who didn’t get a new Mustang from their mommy and daddy can tell you, life isn’t fair. No one who has ever worked for anything expects it to be. And that’s OK, because fairness isn’t the most compelling argument against student debt forgiveness. Here’s the best one: college is stupid.

That’s not an opinion, it’s actual math. Most people who attend college don’t finish. More than a million people a year drop out of college (and take their student debt with them) having wasted years in a pointless effort. Most students who actually stick it out do not graduate on time. Only 60% graduate at all, after six years of trying to get there. Among community college students (like me) it’s even worse. Only 20% of those would be learners actually make it through and get their marginally useful associates degree.

Why aren’t students finishing college? Is it because they’re lazy? In some cases yes, but in many it’s because at some point during their college career the smart ones figure out that college is a scam. Getting a college degree is, for most career paths, only a marginally useful tool in starting a career.

More numbers exist to back up that assertion. 28% of those few who actually do graduate never find a job in the field they got their degree in. 40% may find a job in their chosen career but don’t stick with it, and end up building a career that had nothing to do with their college education. More than 33% of college graduates end up working in jobs that never needed any kind of degree at all.

Hang on, it gets worse. In 2019 a study revealed that 3.9% of people with a college education are unemployed. That was higher than the average for all workers of all education backgrounds at the time, that number was 3.6%.

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Fairness aside, it seems clear that college isn’t actually necessary or even good for most people. Is it something we should encourage? Is it something we should be paying for? The numbers suggest it isn’t.

Despite all my back-breaking, isolating, hard work; count me among the huge number of people who regret their college experience. While I briefly worked as an engineer after community college, now I’m a writer and making three times the money I ever could have made as an engineer. If I’d simply skipped college and started writing, maybe I’d have gotten where I was meant to be sooner. Odds are that’s true for you too.

For most people college was a mistake and college loans were an even bigger one. It’s a mistake the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay for and a way of life there’s no benefit in encouraging. Pay off your loan. You made the problem, you fix it.