Paying for education should not be a lottery, just as a ZIP code should not dictate one’s destiny. Robert F. Smith’s pledge to pay off the debt of the 2019 Morehouse graduates is generous, but it is not the solution for affordable higher education and manageable debt. We need policy solutions.
In 2017 two-thirds of seniors at four-year colleges had student loan debt that averaged $28,650 per person. What policies might make a difference?
The higher education budget passed this session of the legislature is encouraging. The state’s 529 College Savings Plan is a good tool. Scholarships should be a priority for big and small donors.
Reward those who give back
A responsibility to give back to the community should come with relief for college debt. A cornerstone for addressing debt relief can be our current service programs — Peace Corps, military and AmeriCorps.
Candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 was on the right track when he proposed a $10,000 educational award for each year of service. Congress passed and he signed the Community Service Trust Act in 1993, with an education award set at $5,000. An oversight in language in the bill led to the benefit being taxed, and for two decades there was no cost-of-living increase for the award.
$10,000 award would be a significant incentive
The Eli Segal Education Award, as it is known today, stands at $6,095 for one year of service. If adjustments had been made over the years, this award today would be $10,800. When I ask Hamline students if a $10,000 award ($20,000 for two years) would be an incentive for them to serve, they answer a resounding “yes.” In addition to paying off a loan or pursuing more education, service gives members valuable real work experiences and helps develop a lifelong ethic of active citizenship.
Morehouse College’s Class of 2019 had an amazing graduation gift. Let’s work for policies that give every college graduate that same opportunity.
Jim Scheibel, a former mayor of St. Paul, is Professor of Practice in the Management, Marketing and Public Administration Department, Hamline University. He is a former director of both AmeriCorps VISTA and the Senior Corps.
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