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Enough is Enough With Student Loan Forbearance

Quite a few country songs are about guys who made a big mistake when they were young and went to prison.

Merle Haggard tells a story about a man who “turned 21 in prison, doin’ life without parole.” George Jones eulogizes a wretch who spent eighteen years in the slammer “and still has life to go.” And Porter Wagner sings about a guy rotting in a cell because he stabbed his wife and her lover in a fit of rage.

Heck, even Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly, wails out a song about a riot in cell block number 9.

Student-loan debtors can empathize with these prison songs. Like the people Merle, George, Porter, and Wanda sang about, they made a big mistake when they were young and spent their adult lives dealing with the consequences.

Indeed, that is the great tragedy of the student-loan crisis. Young people borrow tons of money to pay for their college education when they are clueless about what they want to do with their lives.

Then they graduate from college (or drop out) and can’t pay back their loans. Interest and penalties accrue, causing their original loan balances to double or triple, and ultimately, they realize they’re facing a lifetime of debt, which they can’t discharge in bankruptcy.

College debtors got a break when the COVID pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. The Department of Education allowed them to skip their monthly loan payments without penalty and without interest accruing on their loans. But that reprieve comes to an end next month.

Senator Chuck Schumer and other congressional leaders want President Biden to extend the student-debt moratorium yet again.

I think that’s a mistake, which will only prolong the misery.

No, Congress should face the fact that the federal student loan program is a catastrophe. Our national legislators need to amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student borrowers to discharge their student-loan debt in bankruptcy.

Also, the feds need to put severe pressure on the colleges and universities to lower their tuition prices.

Finally, we need to shut down the for-profit college sector and shut down dodgy graduate programs—the third-rate law degrees and vacuous MBAs.

Otherwise, we are just enlarging an enormous debtors prison that now holds more than 45 million inmates.

Richard Fossey is a professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana. He received his law degree from the University of Texas and his doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is editor of Catholic Southwest, A Journal of History and Culture.

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