- John Kearney is a retired philosophy professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He has lived in Waterloo for five years.
To ease the transition back to monthly payments (which were suspended during the pandemic), the Biden administration wants to forgive student debt up to $10,000 for non-Pell grant recipients and up to $20,000 for Pell grant recipients. An applicant must meet certain thresholds to qualify for debt relief. For non-Pell grant recipients, your individual annual income cannot exceed $125,000 and $250,000 for households.
In the summer of 1961, I was about to enter my senior year at my university and was short on funds to get through the school year. A former teacher of mine informed me about a Jewish organization willing to lend money to non-Jews. I was the product of a Roman Catholic Jesuit education. I made an appointment with the person who processed loans for that organization. I have a vivid memory of her treating me with the utmost courtesy and respect. I applied for and was granted an interest free loan of $850 (which in today’s dollars is about $8,500). After completing my undergraduate degree, I asked the loan officer if I could begin repaying the loan after I completed a graduate degree. To my astonishment, she agreed. I obtained my graduate degree, and with a profound sense of gratitude, I repaid the loan in full.
While no parent wants to see their offspring saddled with debt, and no student wants to come out of college or university with a financial burden hanging over their head, my problem with the student debt loan relief plan is twofold: it sends the wrong message to the borrower, and it discriminates against those citizens who are in relevantly similar or even more dire financial situations.
I entered into my loan agreement voluntarily. No one forced me. I made a tacit or implicit promise to pay it back. Keeping a promise is a sign of trust, a testimony that you are committed to living up to your end of the bargain. That is the message we should be sending to student borrowers. As regards the discrimination issue, are the needs of a student borrower who earns $120,000 a year and is eligible to receive a $10,000 grant from the government somehow greater or more worthy of consideration than that of a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD or a victim of catastrophic medical illness? I think not.
John Kearney is a retired philosophy professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He has lived in Waterloo for five years.