Columns

Campbell ’18: Between a rock and a hard place

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, March 11, 2016

I don’t have to convince anyone reading this that Brown is a costly school to attend. The school covers about a third of my costs, but even so, every semester my family and I shell out a veritable fortune to allow me to be here. Almost 71 percent of the nation’s class of 2015 took out loans to pay for their educations, and the average debt at graduation was over $35,000. From a moral standpoint, this is reproachable.

But I’m not sure that, in an ideal world, I’d go as far as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’, D-VT, “free public college for all” plan. While I’m morally fine with free higher education, the more rational side of me still feels uncomfortable. If Sanders is elected and able to pass this plan, I would become one of the last graduates to not have had the option of free college. Those who graduate alongside me and I will be at a huge disadvantage when compared to those five years younger than us.

We will be saddled with, on average, $24,500 of debt each. To be fair, these plans try to help us out a bit, too. Sanders’ plan, for example, also includes lowering interest on existing student loan debts. Yet once you consider the resulting increase in taxes, this is a pretty minimal consolation prize we have been offered. Debt is debt. And though we would just miss out on this program’s main benefits, we would pay for it for our entire lives.

If the distribution of the financial burden of this policy reminds you of the implications of another welfare program, it’s probably Social Security. Anyone who has worked has helped to pay for Social Security, yet many believe that Social Security will not last for our generation. At the very least, many predict cutbacks in the near future, as the Old Age and Survivors funds — the main portion of Social Security — are projected to run out of reserves by 2033, well before any one from our generation retires.

Between these two programs, our generation would be left to subsidize both the generations above and below us, while reaping only a small portion of the intended benefits. I understand that taxes are necessary, and I accept that subsidized college and Social Security are legitimate uses of tax revenue. But there must be a way to distribute the costs and the benefits more proportionally and equitably.

It is unacceptable that we be asked to subsidize both those older and younger than we while being denied any significant benefits ourselves. I’m not suggesting student debt isn’t a problem that we can fix — it absolutely is — but we have to do so in a way that doesn’t issue a relative setback to current college students. We have to make sure that in fixing college debt, we actually help those who are currently saddled with it significantly. We should consider morality in our voting decisions, but also be keenly aware of the irrational nature of this choice.

Vaughn Campbell ’18 can be reached at vaughn_campbell@brown.edu.

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