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Morehouse pledge was amazing, but we need policies to reduce all students’ debt

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.

photo of article author
Jim Scheibel
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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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 05/28/2019 - 11:05 am.

    Make college more affordable by getting the Government out of the student loan business is a start. Loaning more money (putting 18-22 more in debt) is not the answer, lowering the cost of college is the answer. Have students test out of as many entry level courses as possible, get done in under 2 1/2 years total for undergrad, push students out of college not into a 5+ year plan. College has become big business to overpaid professors, overpriced student housing, over staffed college administration offices and all backed by USA tax dollars…… What could go wrong?

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/28/2019 - 12:29 pm.

      You’ll see in the simplest of comparisons that private school is much more expensive than public.

      Even Republicans don’t want to cut public school research. It’s tax funded research that corporations can use for free without spending their own money. The research and knowledge for every component in an iPhone was discovered through government research. Military and biological research is the basis of most public funded research. Don’t you support the troops?

    • Submitted by Josh Lease on 05/28/2019 - 12:55 pm.

      Ha! Private lending is ginormous culprit in the student debt crisis; government loans were far more affordable and reasonable. Disinvestment in public higher education started in the late 80’s and cut state support from somewhere in the 70% range to more like 33%. It’s bouncing back slightly, but the more you make university budgets sensitive to enrollment numbers, the more they’re going to have to crank tuition to fill the gaps.

      Student housing costs on most campuses are competitive…when you factor in the entire equation (utilities, internet, groceries etc) and not just compare rent in some nasty dive to the total cost of staying in a nice residence hall.

      That said most MN public universities are focusing on getting students finished in 4 years and not in 5 or 6 year plans. because graduating with a degree in a career field you love with $20K in debt isn’t truly a tragedy: the tragedy is piling up $10K, $15K, $20K in debt…and NOT graduating.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 05/28/2019 - 03:22 pm.

        The Government took over student loans in 2010, so not sure how private loans fit in.? Has the price of college gone down or up since then?

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/28/2019 - 08:35 pm.

          The Federal government took over the operation of the government student loan programs, lowering the cost of administration.

          Private student loans have long been available through banks, credit unions, etc.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 05/28/2019 - 10:21 pm.

            Is it more or less expensive to go to college today than 2010? All the Government backed loans did was raise the cost of college per year. With tax payer backed loans, it is just like Fannie and Freddie, give out money because John Q Public will pay.

            • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/29/2019 - 12:27 pm.

              The reason the government took over administration of the loan program was to lower the cost of the loan program, not to lower the cost of college.

              It saved taxpayers money.

  2. Submitted by Glenn Melcher on 05/28/2019 - 12:34 pm.

    The Morehouse Story is Fabulous to be sure.. If each of those individuals who benefited from this gracious undertaking would “pay it forward” the ripple effect would create a tsunami 🌊 of goodwill…

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/28/2019 - 04:23 pm.

    Limit student loans to that needed to cover one-half the cost of attending a 4-year public university or lower, if attending a community college, tech school, etc. (The U of M, Minneapolis, is currently about $28k / year, including room and board. St. Cloud State just under $21k.)

  4. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 05/30/2019 - 08:43 pm.

    Great suggestions, Jim. Thanks.

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