President Biden has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to prepare a memo on the president's legal authority to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt.
If he did that, the experts tell us, President Biden would forgive all college-loan debt for 36 million people--about 80 percent of all borrowers.
Is that a good idea?
Sort of. Anything the federal government does to provide relief to distressed student-loan debtors is good, so I support a massive cancelation of student debt.
Nevertheless, one-time debt forgiveness is the wrong approach.
Wiping out student debt without reforming the student-loan program is like fixing a flat tire on a broken-down car and then putting it back on the highway with no brakes. Someone down the road is going to get hurt.
The whole damned, rotten student-loan system has to be torn down. Otherwise, the corrupt, venal, and incompetent American higher education system will continue ripping off the American people.
Obviously, massive reform can't be accomplished overnight. But here is what we need to do for starters:
1) Congress must remove the "undue hardship" clause from the Bankruptcy Code and allow insolvent student-loan debtors to discharge their loans in bankruptcy.
2) We've got to shut down the Parent Plus program.
3) The federal government has got to stop subsidizing the for-profit colleges, which have hurt so many young people--especially people of color and low-income people.
4) We've got to stop shoving student borrowers into 25-year, income-based repayment plans that are structured such that no one in these plans can ever pay off their loans. There almost 9 million people in IBRPs now.
5) The universities have got to start offering programs that help their graduates get a real job. Degrees in ethnic studies, diversity studies, LGBT studies, and gender studies only prepare people for jobs teaching ethnic studies, diversity studies, gender studies, and LGBT studies.
6) Finally, we must restore the integrity of the nation's law schools. We've got too many mediocre law schools. California alone has more than 50 law schools, with only 18 accredited by the American Bar Association. And the law schools need to go back to admitting students based on objective criteria--the LSAT score, in particular.
If we had fewer but better-trained lawyers, we'd have less litigation and fewer attorneys who see their job as being hired political hacks.
Will the Biden administration do any of the things I've outlined? I doubt it.
Higher education is in desperate need of reform. A college education is far too expensive, and much of what is taught at the universities is not useful. Wiping out student debt will bring some relief to millions of college borrowers. But if the colleges don't change how they do business, the student-debt crisis will not be solved.