Cutting student debt rewards irresponsibility

This probably will make my former colleague Helen Ubinas mad at me.

But the Inquirer columnist has been mad at me, or my opinions, before.

Two things we share — our Bronx birthplace and our love of dogs. That’s about it.

We disagree that she is a liberal. I once called her that — not meant as an insult, because some of my best friends, you know  — and she denied that’s how she rolls. Read her and decide for yourself.

Here I am going to quote her at length because she says something I strongly agree with: 

“Don’t feel like doing your homework or your job or paying your bills or your taxes? Just don’t,” she wrote.

“Are bosses (or teachers or parents or significant others) on you to do something, or maybe stop doing something? Pffft, who’s gonna make you?

“For real, any time you’re called to take responsibility for whatever, whenever, don’t sweat it. Because who’s really held accountable for much of anything anymore? Not treasonous presidents, not seditious Republican lawmakers, not even a Capitol rioter who was given permission to vacation in Mexico while out on bail. (Insurrections can be so exhausting.)

“And lately, not our mayor.

“Last month it was revealed that Mayor Kenney would only sit for an interview with independent investigators looking into the city’s monumental mishandling of police protests if the questions were provided in advance and if followup questions were submitted in writing.

“And he declined — declined? — to appear at a hearing Friday to testify about his administration’s central role in the Philly Fighting COVID vaccination debacle.

“Not to say I told you so, but I told you so many times that unchecked accountability only leads to more unchecked accountability. Tolerating bad behavior begets more bad behavior.”

End quote. Full stop.

It’s like I have a twin! Personal accountability!

That didn’t sound very liberal. Maybe I was wrong about her.

But I’ll bet she’s 100% behind President Joe Biden’s idea to cut student debt loans by $10,000. Matter of fact, I am pretty sure she’d cut them even more, because she has written about how expensive college has become. As far back as 1996, when she was in Hartford, she shared a byline on that very subject.  

I have written about the high cost of college myself, and I suggested how to avoid the crippling debt.

It’s really not hard. As with credit card debt, you avoid that by spending less.

If you can’t wangle a scholarship — academic or athletic — don’t go to a school you can’t afford.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Penn’s annual tuition is $60,000. Penn State, however, charges $18,454 for instate students — two-thirds less than Penn. And has a much better football team. 

If you pass up brand-name, “elite” schools in favor of state, or land grant schools, you will save a ton.

Do your first two years in a community college and you will save even more. It’s $8,345 a year for state residents at the Community College of Philadelphia.

But if you make the irresponsible choice to voluntarily go into more debt than you can repay, don’t expect me to bail you out. 

Because when your student debt is “forgiven,” the money is still owed and someone else pays it back, one way or another. 

So we are back to accountability, or personal responsibility, a favorite theme of mine.

The student debt payback scam idea was brought to the main stage by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was scrounging for student votes moved to action by concerns about students (such as those charged $65,000 a year at Harvard Law School, where she reportedly earns about $200,000 for teaching one course). 

Warren started the pandering bidding at $50,000 debt forgiveness, a nice round number apparently pulled out of thin air. Needless to say, her campaign was very welcome on college campuses. It was also welcomed by the approximately 1 million people who default on student debt every year.

The $50,000 was never talked about as a handout — God forbid — to white elites, but that’s where the bulk of the money would go, angering previous students or parents who scrimped or worked two jobs to pay loans back.

It sounds nice to “forgive” a debt, but the message it sends undermines personal responsibility, and shifts the burden of the debt from the one who incurred it to the hapless taxpayer. As Helen said, why bother to do the right thing?

The “logic” behind the gift is that it would stimulate the economy. 

You know what would stimulate the economy even more?

Pay off mortgages! That is the only pool of debt larger than student loans.  

That would turn trillions loose, and that would go to people already contributing to the economy — taxpayers.

Why not cut them a break? 

It’s not that I have no sympathy for the students. They should be able to renegotiate interest rates on their loans as homeowners do with their mortgage.

The theme here is personal responsibility.

If you have accepted a debt, pay it off. That’s what adults do. If they can’t, they suffer the consequences.

That’s just as much a learning experience as the college you took out the loan to attend.

29 thoughts on “Cutting student debt rewards irresponsibility”

    or should I say happy money ?
    With sarcasm intended, I think that all of my rich Jewish friends, who live in ivory towers in center city, should contribute my fair share. My family’s fair share and everybody’s fair share !
    Actually, you are most definitely right again. Our generation was taught some smarts, because our parents lived through a depression and a war.
    The National Debt has us at about $84, 000.00 EACH ! Taxpayers have a bill of about $ 240,000.00 EACH. I think that that’s a real number, because Uncle Sam knows that there are a lot of deadbeat taxpayers out there. Especially those that don’t have a real job.

      1. maybe because you, pallie are one of my Jewish friends who live in center city.
        LET IT SNOW !

  2. People don’t want to take responsibility- that’s the problem!
    If you forgive the debt on college loans- people are going to demand other debt be forgiven as well.
    Also, there are a lot of people who paid for college and made sacrifices and/ or paid back loans they took out- will they get a check?

  3. I have read Helen Urbanis, and view her as just a bad, misinformed individual, that someone has entitled for reasons probably unrelated to talent or life experience. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t care.
    Your rant about personal responsibility reflects my view. Our government (or the politician who cares about votes and little else) tries to
    discourage this. It gains favor with the entitled class, and anyone, like you and I who disagree with things like “debt forgiveness”, and know the value of self worth are just meanies.

  4. If there more Union bluecollar jobs in America the need for a collage education wouldn’t be necessary. When President Clinton was in office he signed NAFTA which destroyed many jobs that provided a good living with benefits. The American public prioritizes saving money on junk products from the Far East and Mexico rather then spending a few more cents on solid made American products.

  5. I agree with you Stu. I paid off my student loan and yes times were tough but I did it! If you borrow money you have to pay it back. I wish relatives and friends understood this simple principle!

  6. Loved your article, Stu. I paid off my college loan over 15 years, which is what the terms allowed. The letter I received telling me the loan was paid in full is in a frame and hangs over my desk. I have 3 children, all of whom were able to pay their loans within 5 years of graduating. Side note
    here** I paid the majority of their tuitions and made them take out symbolic loans just so they had some “skin in the game”. Still, they all owed about $ 15,000 each upon graduation. I didn’t have to hound them to pay them off, they took it upon themselves to get it done quickly. I’ll be curious to see their reactions to this proposal because all 3 are liberals and I can’t wait to ask them if they’re going to want refunds.

  7. I have four sons, and three of them were in college at the same time — my punishment for having had them so close together (1969, 1971, 1972). I was blessed to have a very good job, and so paid their way — but it hurt. I didn’t want them to enter the work world with a huge debt hanging around their necks. Son number four came much later (15 years later, to be precise, from the same wife). I also paid his way. Then son number two wanted to go into the medical field (Physician Assistant) and so went to Drexel for three years and got his PA degree. For that he borrowed, and to pay off the debt took a commission as captain in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, which gave him a nice signing bonus. That money went right to the student loan. When he extended his commission, he got promoted to major, and got another bonus and paid his student loan bill in full. Of course, he has to serve a bunch of years in the Guard, but (as he told me) he wants to give back to the country. He is outraged that he lived up to his agreement to pay his loan back, while others may get a free ride. Tangentially, I have a daughter-in-law who was Austrian born and who worked and studied to become a US citizen. It sticks in her craw that citizenship is going to be handed to people who came here illegally. What messages are we sending the coming generations? Simple: play by the rules and you’re a putz.

    1. Vince,
      You know that in your heart, that’s far from true. Our parents instilled values in us. In turn, we had the privilege to educate our children. And as I watch them grow, mature marry and their own off springs, they too have values from the old school.
      The lesson here: Be true to yourself. In so doing, you’ll leave your mark for mankind to see.

      1. Tony, I’ve tried to inculcate values in my sons and grandchildren and feel I’ve do successfully. But all those freeloaders out there who whine and grumble about having to pay what they owe…what kind of upbringing did THEY have? There is a commercial I hear on the radio that really gets me angry, it’s a commercial that says “Hey, are you tired of those constant phone calls demanding that you repay your credit card debt? Call us and we’ll get those pesky callers off your back! We even may be able to get your debt forgiven!” Great message, no? “You borrowed money and now the lenders want to be repaid — how dare they!” THAT is a message that resonates with today’s freeloaders.

  8. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    The size of student loans and the burdens they impose on young people starting out is a real problem. However, I agree that student loan forgiveness is not a real solution,

    The more basic problem is the the universities themselves, their inflated non-academic programs, administrative bloat, disregard for young faculty and ever increasing tuition charges. Though the universities are full of “part time” faculty who are basically not paid a living wage, and senior faculty often take home a bundle, it is the higher levels of administration who are basically responsible for ever increasing costs. Extensive student-loan forgiveness would simply bury the real problems of excessive costs and expenses –which administration tries to recover from the student “customers.”

    The universities need to be slimmed down and refocused on their basic purpose of education. The politicians would have to act and impose greater economy, limits and lower tuition rates on the institutions. This is basically a responsibility of the states, though the feds have also often imposed costly requirements. There is a current program of PA government to slim down the less prestigious state university system. But my sense of the matter is that the politicians too often view the larger, more prestigious universities and colleges as supporting constituencies –to be further subsidized rather than slimmed down?

    Just as we have a gigantic “military-industrial complex” generously supported –whether we quite need it all or not, it seems we also have a gigantic “education, welfare and health-care complex,” which competes, by political means for generous support and funding. Efforts to significantly reduce tuition costs seem to be up against influential “vested interests” and a great deal of political resistance. Students lacking independent means tend to get ground up in the system –in spite of all well intended efforts to help. Even in the state universities, students are often burdened with unaffordable tuition, long hours working outside of class to pay expenses, and to top it off, they end up with very considerable debts.

    H.G. Callaway

  9. When my first son was born in 1969 tuition at Harvard was $2,200. By the time he was ready for college (1988), tuition was $18,250. Today it is about $72,000. Much of that has been caused by government student lending. The rest from the glory years of the Peanut Farmer president and the 20% inflation rate of his wonderful one term in office.

      Like you, I put my three children through college. The two oldest shared college time and the oldest went to Albright. For an out of state-er, no breaks, it cost as much as Penn. The B.A. was on me. Higher learning on them.
      I’m not complaining. I’m thankful I could do it.
      Unlike most of you folks, I see the problem of cost shared. Everybody had a hand in not keeping the tuitions down.
      Can we reign in the high costs of education ? No. Not unless we take a serious look at the problem and we are willing to shake up the system, including, pissing off a lot of academics. This is also true at the local levels .

      1. An education-related joke: a woman graduates from university with a double degree, one in mid 15th century Italian poetry, and one in female-author studies, winds up as the best-educated waitress at Olive Garden. (Yeah, ‘waitress.’ Let us await the howls of outrage from the PC fruitcakes.)

  10. Good evening Mr. Byofsky,

    A few months ago, I abandoned reading the Philadelphia Inquirer. My reasoning was fairly simple. I wanted to read about the news. Period. I did not want every article to read like an Opinion Column from the uber-left. Prior to my abandonment, it was not unusual for me to comment on the piece.

    One of my final comments was at the end of column about college debt forgiveness. I noted that government policies such as those (including immigration forgiveness, etc) have an inherent, built-in “eff you” directed at everyone who previously played by the rules. It should also be noted the Inquirer disabled my content presumably because the phrase “eff you” was deemed offensive. By cancelling someone’s college debt or by allowing people who are in our country illegally to become U.S. Citizens automatically, the government shouts out a great big giant “eff you” to all those who have previously retired their school debt or who became U.S. Citizens in accordance with the rules.

    Your article is spot on. Thank you for your observations. I will continue to be a loyal follower.

  11. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu & readers,

    A little follow up, from The Atlantic:

    All told, including the contributions of individual families and the government (in the form of student loans, grants, and other assistance), Americans spend about $30,000 per student a year—nearly twice as much as the average developed country. “The U.S. is in a class of its own,” says Andreas Schleicher, the director for education and skills at the OECD, and he does not mean this as a compliment. “Spending per student is exorbitant, and it has virtually no relationship to the value that students could possibly get in exchange.”
    —end quotation—


    Links to several related articles on college costs appear on the same page.

    A short quotation from Jefferson:
    “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

    H.G. Callaway

  12. A good majority of Today’s college students live an entitled life, and never had a part time job all through school! So I say no to the college loan forgiveness! I decided not to go to college watching older siblings work pt jobs and go to school full time. I wasn’t up for the struggle plus I just finished paying my high school tuition!

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