THE LITERARY MEERKAT: Howard Denson

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Thoughts on College Debts ©

Posted by Howard Denson on August 29, 2022 at 4:50 PM

By HOWARD DENSON

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Today’s Republicans tend not to have any coherent proposals to better the U.S. and, alas, seem to look for issues that may enable them to hold onto political power. Once they do that, they want to lower taxes, mainly on the rich, simplify regulations on business so they can do whatever they please, and get Uncle Sam to subsidize their favorite industries.

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As a former Goldwater supporter and a card-carrying member of the Alabama Republican Party in the Sixties, I would seem to be a critic who would give Joe Biden a good what-for because he forgave some debts for college students and graduates.

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As an undergraduate at Pensacola JC and Florida State, I did not receive a penny from Uncle Sam toward my college expenses. My family paid some but only what a Navy enlisted photographer could afford. I worked several part-time jobs, sometimes three or four during a week totalling up to 20 to 40 hours a week, until I reached a point at FSU when I knew I had enough to make it to graduation. I was able to quit the jobs, and (surprise, surprise!) my grades improved.

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I no longer remember my Grade Point Average at FSU, but there were some A’s, many B’s and C’s, and one D (trig at PJC). Nothing to brag about. However, I graduated with zero debt and wince when I read today of graduates having to pay off loans of $100,000 to $200,000.

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Quick digression: Stories often include expense of housing and meals in the costs of going to college. Why? Even if individuals didn’t go to college, they’d still need a place to stay and food to eat.

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After saving much of what I made during the five years after graduation, I tired of the hum-drum life of a flunky journalist. I wanted to write something that would be read a year or decade later, perhaps teach, but I needed a master’s. Using my own savings, I was able to zip through the program at Southern Miss in a year without having to work as a graduate assistant. It would have taken two years to go that route. So, again, I graduated without any debt.

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Would I recommend that for all students? Absolutely not. For all of my flaws, I did have a couple of virtues: I was able to write, and I liked to read and had covered a lot of material that I was able at times to use in classes.

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Did I try to get scholarships or government loans? Yes. In Norfolk, I took a test for the Navy, perhaps for Annapolis or just for an NROTC scholarship. Whatever it was, the test contained nautical words that I had never seen (nor encountered in the decades thereafter). Someone serious about the military academies really would seek out a military prep college to train for the test. That would have cost money that we didn't have. In Pensacola, I applied for a federal scholarship that was encouraging students to go into teaching, mainly science. If it was partly needs-based, then my recent purchase of a car to replace my clunker may have signaled that I really didn’t need a scholarship.

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“You borrow, you pay things back. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Don’t expect Uncle Sam to be a sap who gives hand-outs right and left.”

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We all heard such statements, and, as a Nixon-Ford Republican, I believed the axioms, but it dawned on me that the GOP really didn’t. Bankers during the Savings & Loan debacle screwed the pooch royally, and did they suck in their gut and vow to work hard and make up for their losses?

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Nope. The S&L crowd received a bail-out from Uncle Sucker.

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In 2007-2008, when Wall Street and bankers really did a number on our financial health, did they take a deep breath and dig into their considerable reserves to erase the losses?

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Absolutely no way, Jose. They got Uncle Sucker to fork over billions to make the problem go away. Even later, when the feds headed off another banking fiasco, the banks and corporations took Uncle Sam’s cash and promptly paid bonuses to their execs or bought back some of their stock.

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When colleges and universities got into the business of giving out loans, the shysters were in high cotton. For-profit outfits enticed students into taking out loans with fairly high interest rates. Even respectable institutions participated in the process. What happened? The loans were handed over to Uncle Sam, the shysters and the naïve having done their part. Over time, the students were repaying the loans so faithfully that it became a windfall for Uncle Sam. Of course, some prosperous lawyers or doctors skipped on repaying the U.S. (and making for juicy tidbits in news stories), but overall Uncle Sam did more than all right.

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We expect such hypocrisy in Washington, but Florida’s bean-counters in the Florida Legislature look out for their buddies and waste money left and right. For example, the “conservative” legislators wanted another College of Law in the state. Higher education said it wasn’t necessary. The lawmakers funded it anyway. The conservatives wanted another College of Medicine. Despite system wide opposition, the lawmakers funded it anyway. A legislator wanted to split off part of a university and have the portion in his home county set up as a separate university. Not necessary? The frugal bean-counters did it anyway because it would make a key leader happy.

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Administrations in higher ed often aren’t much better. In years when inflation may have been 3-5 percent, they would raise the cost of tuition by 20 percent. This occurred repeatedly until dedicated students didn’t have time enough in the week to make enough to pay for college.

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So is it fiscally irresponsible to forgive student debt?

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Hardly.

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Not that K-12 education in public schools is free (because the costs are derived from property tax), I once toyed with the notion that K-12 should cost but that college should be “free.” The little gray cells worked on the idea and decided it wouldn’t work for a variety of reasons.

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However, it does seem as if college should be free for selected, important professions: e.g., doctors and other health professions.

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One website says, “. . . [T]he average cost of medical school (assuming a four-year stint) can range from $155,788 to $244,092. At the highest end, the cost reaches $398,488.” The figures exclude increases in tuition, plus living expenses for board and meals.

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That’s a tremendous burden and obstacle.

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So, good for Joe Biden for making things a little easier for folks who aren’t bankers, fund-managers, and shysters.

 

Categories: The Human Comedy or Tragedy

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