Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Time Capsule: Facebook Debates

A typical debate on Facebook circa 2012:

Status Update: [Sign this petition to forgive all student loans!]

M: 1) Should someone who majored in sociology, knowing that job prospects would not be as bright as another field (e.g., engineering), receive the same treatment under any loan forgiveness law? 2) Would forgiving loans change the existing education-gov complex, which has created the tuition inflation you reference? 3) Would forgiving existing student loans help future generations of students, who would still be subject to increasing tuition? 4) Will future students be subject to higher interest rates as a result of loan forgiveness? 5) If you have private loans, are you aware that loan forgiveness means that American taxpayers will be giving more of their money to large banks? 6) Why should a taxpayer in Kansas, who had nothing to do with your decision to attend college, suffer a higher federal debt b/c of your voluntary decision? 7) Why not give all Americans with any kind of debt a one-time benefit of $25,000? (This is the most important question to consider, b/c it forces someone to remember that money comes from somewhere and is not infinite.) 8) Why should student loans be favored over other kinds of debt, esp credit card debt that may have been used to buy essentials for a family? 9) I believe you work for a non-profit (universities are usually non-profits). Are you aware of a federal program that allows student loans to be forgiven after 10 yrs if you work for a non-profit or the gov?

A: I would like to live in a society where multiple fields can be entered by people from diverse backgrounds, not a place where only those lucky enough to come from wealthy backgrounds can choose certain education paths. As to [the] question about whether a sociology major should get the same consideration as someone in another field, absolutely; there is no guarantee of a job in ANY field, and I know many people who have made their college choices based on supposed job prospects, only to discover upon graduation that the jobs have dried up or were never there in the first place. Also, student loan debt is treated differently than credit card debt. Student loans are treated very differently from other debt if you file for bankruptcy, and not in favor of the debtor. We hear constantly that a college education is a necessity. In many cases, taking on student debt is the only realistic way of financing that education. Now we're also told that taking on that debt is irresponsible. To me, this seems like the same thing as telling people that if they don't start out with money they don't deserve to earn it.

M: your comments seem to make several points: 1) an education is necessary for success; 2) everyone ought to be able to choose their field of study because no specific field guarantees a job, and we don't want to foreclose specific educational options based on someone's available income or wealth; 3) bankruptcy allows some forms of debt to be discharged, but not student loans; and 4) taking on debt is necessary to get ahead because college is a necessity. Yet, none of these comments address the issue of why these specific loans should be forgiven over others, or why relatively well-off people should be given preference in debt forgiveness (over a single mom with three kids and negative equity in her house, for example). Once again, money is finite, it does not grow on trees, and a dollar spent on forgiving student loans is a dollar that cannot be spent on universal healthcare, Headstart, etc. In essence, when someone asks for loan forgiveness, s/he is asking to put his/her issues ahead of everyone else's in America. (If you disagree, see previous question about why we don't just give everyone $25,000.) Some more comments: 1) the American taxpayer can't guarantee anyone a job, but it's clear that some degrees are worth more than others. Why should the American taxpayer be on the hook for someone who chooses to get a job in field A rather than field B? For example, I majored in English and Philosophy--I could not find a job with those two degrees. Should the government refund me $40,000? Why not? 2) If you want to smooth out differences in education results, what is the reason we don't guarantee everyone, upon graduation, the same salary and benefits? 3) If we don't believe all degrees are worth the same, and we do want to differentiate between fields of study, does it make sense to divert the poorest among us into more marketable fields? Does the prospect of non-dischargeable debt make it more or less likely that a poorer person will gravitate towards a more marketable field? (i.e., would you prefer that a poorer person gravitate towards a lower-paying or easier field?) 4) If college is necessary for success, is it doing a good job if graduates need to appeal to the government for assistance? What are the reasons colleges are able to produce so many graduates who have difficulties? Would forgiving loans improve, reform, or sustain colleges that do not educate their students properly or that do not have proper career placement offices? 5) What is the reason you are choosing to place the onus of student loan debt on taxpayers instead of the schools themselves? Why shouldn't the school be the primary focus rather than the general taxpayer that had nothing to do with the student debt incurred? Why should a married housewife in Kansas, who doesn't make as much as you, support a higher national debt for your benefit based on your voluntary choice? To the extent the federal government should act, why should it favor someone who has a job over someone who is unemployed? Once again, see earlier question--why don't we just decide to give everyone $25,000?

J: As a University Professor, and an indentured servant to my education, I think the Student Loan Forgiveness plan would be incredibly helpful in stimulating the economy.

M: you are correct that forgiving student loans would stimulate the economy. So would forgiving all credit card debt. Or giving everyone $25,000. So why don't we give everyone $25,000? Or forgive everyone's debts? As a college professor, what do you understand to be the downsides, if any, to loan forgiveness?

S: I'd like someone else to pay my mortgage, but I'm the one who purchased the house. Shelter, it's pretty darn necessary.

A: I'm sorry. I find this topic very upsetting. I believe that education should be available to everyone, and that it is actually to our benefit as a society to have an educated population. I don't think a college education should be confused with vocational training, but the system of student loans is predicated on the notion that it is. I think the system is broken. I think student loan forgiveness would be one step in reconfiguring the system. I believe that a society where people choose fields of study based solely on perceived employment opportunities would be a poor one to live in. Who would teach our children? Who would write our books, create our art? Who would pursue actual original research? I don't have answers, but I can recognize that there is a serious problem going on. The estimated cost of attendance for one year at my local community college is approximately $10,500 for a student living at home. In this state, skyrocketing tuition is mostly the result of state-funded schools partially offsetting draconian cuts in state funding with increases in tuition and fees. I'm glad some people have managed to get educated without landing deep in debt. They're clearly smarter, more responsible and harder working than I am.

M: if graduates are not able to use their skills and knowledge to pay back at least their student loans, then what does that tell you about the utility of the education they paid for? Also, if the issue is high tuition, shouldn't the focus be on the schools and teachers? Or do states set tuition prices arbitrarily, without regard to the costs being imposed upon them by school employees and school retirees? You are correct that there is a serious problem with education, but you're looking at effects, not causes, which means you are actually favoring the status quo for the next generation of students. Moreover, art and books existed before schools and tuition payments. Teaching existed before schools and tuition payments. Learning existed before schools and tuition payments. To the extent we've made schools and tuition payments mandatory for a good life, then the question is, "Why have so many schools and teachers been able to take so much money from taxpayers--tens of billions of dollars each year in some states--and churn out students who are not prepared to enter the workforce or pay back their loans?"

A: the college teachers I know aren't making heaps of money. We all gain by subsidizing education. I benefit from living in a society which is well-educated. Education isn't just a personal investment for the benefit of the individual student. That is why it is worth paying for at a broader level.

M: is education valuable to society at any cost to the taxpayer? For example, is it a good idea to spend 80% of a state's entire budget on colleges? Why not? Also, taxpayer money is finite, correct? A state receives x amount in revenue each year and must work within those boundaries. Because state taxpayer money is finite, what are the downsides, if any, to increasing college funding?

K: If an education was as cheap as some folks words, there wouldn't be much of a problem. An uneducated or undereducated nation will fail. The notion of an educated elite overseeing an uneducated mass is terrifying.

M: Does an education in and of itself--regardless of cost--necessarily lead to a strong nation? Or should we also analyze the content of the education; its utility relating to future employment prospects; its ability to foster innovation; and its ability to impart useful skills to its graduates, including critical thinking skills?

Rhetoric as a basis for policy--rather than prioritizing a balanced budget, property rights, rule of law, and an aversion to imperialism--often causes nations to fail. A college education--whether free or expensive--does not benefit society if graduates are unable to analyze complex issues with an eye towards certain values such as rule of law; an independent judiciary; separation of religion and state; checks and balances; a preference towards a balanced budget; property rights; an aversion towards imperialism, etc. Even if the values themselves cannot be agreed upon, education in general, to be useful, must impart critical thinking skills (e.g. logic) or useful skills that will lead to employment.

K: I guess it didn't work for you. That's too bad.

M: Just saw a friend write, "I loathe certain liberals because they're members of the American leftist culture where 'clever ideas,' credentials, left wing shibboleths, good intentions and personal contacts trump actually delivering value." Reminded me of a few people :-)

[Note: this posting has been backdated.]

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