Murray: Why I’m not mad at student loan forgiveness | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo provided, Weber State University

Lea Murray

Thirty years ago, I was entering freshman year at Syracuse University, which cost $25,000 a year to attend. My dad, who had been saving money all my life to send me to college, told me he didn’t have enough money to pay for Syracuse. I would have to make up the difference, and I did with student grants and loans. Four years later, I entered the University of Albany to get my graduate degree in political science. I didn’t have enough money to live in Albany and go to school, so I made up the difference with assistantships and student loans.

As a result, I arrived at Weber State University in 2002 with over $72,000 in student loan debt. My first annual salary was not enough to pay off the monthly loan payments and live in Ogden, so I consolidated my loans into a 2% payment over 30 years and am still paying them today. I have never missed a payment. Didn’t take advantage of COVID deferred payment policies, and learned President Biden’s recent $10,000 student loan debt forgiveness won’t apply to me because I consolidated my loans before the federal government considered the surrender.

Once in a while, something the federal government does actually affects you, directly in your pocketbook. This student loan conversation that’s unfolding as a result of the executive order is one of those things. I will be one of the millions of Americans who have taken out loans and paid them back and I will not have forgiven any of it – and I am in no way angry about it.

First, none of my loans were predatory. It was never true that I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. My dad made it very clear that if I had attended a public school he could have easily paid and I would have left my undergraduate school debt-free. I could also have lived with my father while in college, and he would have covered my room and board. But I wanted to go to Syracuse University and I wanted to live on my own in my twenties. These choices had costly consequences and I was willing to bear the cost.

Second, I have no problem putting my brains on the line as collateral for a student loan. People take out loans all the time to buy cars, houses, or boats, or any number of things that improve their lives. They get these loans because the bank knows that if the payments don’t come in, they can take the property. My loan was guaranteed by the federal government. Citibank gave me the loan because the feds said if I didn’t pay, they would pay for me. I never needed help from the federal government, so I never took it. But I don’t mind that it put me at risk for something that a bank would be willing to do so that I could get the degrees I wanted. I knew I was going to graduate, I knew I would have a paying job, and I knew I would pay off the loan — all of that is true. I was a good bet for the federal government.

Here’s why I’m not angry that millions of Americans are forgiven when I wasn’t: All of those students weren’t as aware of the consequences of their choices as I was. Predatory lending practices abound in higher education and many students have no idea what they are enrolling in; they didn’t have my dad giving them options and choices. Here’s another reason I’m not mad: The federal government forgives all the time so its citizens can have a better life. This is part of the “promoting the general welfare” clause of the US Constitution. I am tax exempt on the money I pay for my house because the feds want us all to own. I am tax exempt on the money I pay for my children because the federal government wants us all to have children. Other citizens enjoy an income tax exemption for starting small businesses, taking out PPP loans during the pandemic, or spending their own money on school supplies for their classrooms.

The federal government should absolutely allow citizens to do the things the country needs so that we all have a better life. If student loan forgiveness allows them to go back to college and complete their education, if loan forgiveness allows them to buy a home, if loan forgiveness allows them to make the decisions that will lead to adulthood – it’s all for the good of all – then the federal government should cancel these loans.

My husband and I paid off his student loan debt. I am in the process of repaying mine and at some point in the not too distant future there will be one less payment in my checking account. We don’t need help from the federal government and we don’t regret that others who need help get it.

Leah Murray is the Brady Distinguished Presidential Professor of Political Science and Academic Director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University.


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