Forgive and Forget

Photo by Hunter Laserna | The Signal

The $300 billion student loan forgiveness plan is ramping up as the U.S. Department of Education has just launched the beta version of the student debt relief application form. Hopeful students will have to wait a few more weeks, as the plan is facing a series of lawsuits from different groups and claims from state legislatures that claim the project would harm tax revenue. 

While delays to the plan are frustrating enough, the bill itself also proves to be insufficient in tackling the national student debt, which currently sits at a whopping 1.73 trillion dollars. It goes without saying that $300 billion would barely make a dent. On top of this, the plan seems to lack any further student debt reform as indicated by the statement that free community college along with other proposed Build Back Better programs will not be introduced, ensuring that our national student debt will shortly return to where it was before the forgiveness plan, with the next generation of college students replacing those who are being relieved of their debts now. 

It is made evident by all of this that our federal government has little to no interest in making college more accessible to some of its most disadvantaged citizens and even less interest in doing what every other comparable nation has been able to do, make University education free. Interestingly, there was a time when state universities in the United States were tuition free. This sounds fantastical in 2022 but this practice continued into the late 1960s, so what brought it to an end?

As with many of the struggles which America continues to struggle with, this can be attributed to the one and only Ronald Reagan. Then governor of California, Reagan, in 1966, proposed a plan for the University of California System to charge tuition to attend schools.  It must be said that the timing of this is no coincidence, with the 1960s seeing much political turmoil occurring daily. The civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the idea of nuclear annihilation lingered in the background of daily life, radicalizing many young, educated Americans to become more distrustful of the government, leading to the emergence of student groups and nationwide protests with the support of grassroots activist groups like the Black Panthers and The Young Lord’s Organization. The prevalence of such activity happening on college campuses demonstrated the power of education to inspire ideas on how to create a more fair and equitable society. 

Ronald Reagan was having none of this, going as far as to state that he wanted to “get rid of undesirables. Those there to agitate and not to study might think twice before they pay tuition… they might think twice how much they want to pay to carry a picket sign.” Reagan’s obliteration of free college was successful, hurling us into the current debt nightmare we find ourselves in. With the new pay-to-play model of education, tuition has also gotten more expensive, propping up an entire industry around student debt that is based on predatory inclusion. 

The crushing debt that our population faces also serves to reinforce already existing racial and gender disparities, with black students being 20% more likely to borrow than their white counterparts. Opportunity for rising college students can feel dangerously thin as many people are unable to find jobs in their preferred field or do their studied profession out of profit, rather than for the wellbeing of others. One coil rebuts that those who are worried about job security can simply go to trade school. This rhetoric seeks to place the blame on individuals for having the “wrong” passions and does very little to investigate why so many industries are unable to (or more likely unwilling) put to work the most educated generation of people in human history. 

Providing free education has proven to have countless benefits for countries that implement it but the government of the United States is more than happy with stifling the educational, social, and economic power of its working class, all of which have the chance to be increased through a college education.