The Wall Street Journal has two stories in its opinion section about what is happening to student loans–the first is entitled, “Your Taxpayer Tuition Bill,” and the second is entitled, “The Hidden Student-Debt Bomb.” As you know, the federal government took over the student-loan market in 2010. The Department of Education now stands behind over $1 trillion in outstanding debt.
The first article explains:
Less well known is how the same federal government that has promoted and subsidized this debt is also scheming to make sure it doesn’t have to be repaid.
Jason Delisle of the New America Foundation has the story in a nearby op-ed. Even as the debt-level rises and the economy improves, the feds are promoting loan forbearance and forgiveness programs.
The first article explains that graduates who choose nonprofit or government jobs an have their loans forgiven entirely after 10 years.
The first article points out:
Two years ago the Administration’s estimate of the average amount to be forgiven in income-based repayment plans was already $41,000 per borrower. The total amount of forbearance loans is $125 billion, and rising. And even with all of these ways to avoid on-time repayment, borrowers are still defaulting at a rate of nearly 20%. The clear danger is that hundreds of billions of dollars will never be repaid, which means that future taxpayers will have to pick up the tab.
Now on to the second article. The problem with the government taking over student loans is that a large percentage of them will not be repaid–leaving the taxpayers to pay the bill. Conveniently, the bill will be due after President Obama leaves office.
The second article illustrates the trend:
Despite more borrowers taking advantage of benefits to suspend and lower their payments, the share of borrowers in default is still trending upward. It now stands at 19.8% of borrowers whose loans have come due—some 7.1 million borrowers with $103 billion in outstanding balances. That’s the highest share since the Education Department began making the statistic available in 2013, and given other trends, it probably is a record high.
These trends are troubling because the U.S. economy has been improving for some time. Yet fewer and fewer borrowers are repaying their federal student loans. For those who do make payments, more of them are paying too little to retire the debt they took on.
This all makes sense, however, when you realize that the student-loan program has been designed to achieve two political goals: Loans should be available to any student, at any school, pursuing any credential; and student debt is bad and burdensome, so it should be easy for borrowers not to repay.
Based on these goals, the program is performing quite well for students and the institutions whose coffers swell under such loose lending standards. Loan issuance has grown rapidly in recent years while repayment rates have declined steadily. From the perspective of the taxpayers who must ultimately finance these liabilities, however, the federal student-loan program is performing badly and steadily getting worse.
There are some things we need to remember. Any time the government takes over something, it makes it less efficient. Banks had motivation for collecting on these loans and thus used wisdom in granting them–the government has neither. The amount of a college loan should be connected to the marketability of the skill required–borrowing more than $100,000 to get a degree in Women’s Studies does not necessarily make sense. As an aside, I once knew a person who had a Ph. D. in lute, but he was working for a living and being responsible financially. I also once worked doing data entry in a call center where one of the telemarketers had a degree in Ancient Egyptian Archeology. I asked him why he was working as a telemarketer, and he replied, “I like to eat.” An education is a wonderful thing, but at some point employment has to be a goal. Not everyone needs to go to college, and the American taxpayer does not have to pay the bill for everyone to attend.