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The Student Loan Program Is Designed to Shovel Federal Money to Colleges at Students’ Expense

Years ago, I traveled through central Uganda in a Land Rover, accompanied by a native guide. We came around a curve in the road and surprised a large troop of baboons.

All the baboons ran away. Large and small, the whole group fled into the woods. All but one.

The largest baboon was reclining against a tree when we appeared, and he stayed put. He was not afraid of us and wanted us to know it.

My guide stopped our vehicle so that we could observe this human-sized creature. The baboon stood up and slowly walked to my side of the Land Rover. My window was open, and soon he was standing only inches from me.

My guide had bought a bunch of Ugandan bananas (very tasty), and I offered one to the baboon. He stared directly into my eyes for a few seconds, which made me extremely uneasy. Finally, he grabbed the banana from my hand and walked away without showing gratitude.

“I just did a stupid thing,” I admitted to my guide, and he agreed. “Yes, Mr. Fossey, that was stupid.”

Our federal government is doing stupid things with the student-loan program. Today, 45 million Americans hold student debt totaling $1.7 trillion, and millions of borrowers are in income-based repayment plans that last as long as a quarter of a century. The prime beneficiaries of all this largesse are colleges and universities.

Have the colleges used this money wisely? No, they haven’t. They raise tuition rates yearly because they know that students will take out ever-larger loans to pay their tuition bills. They roll out expensive graduate programs that don’t lead to good jobs. They overpay their administrators, who proliferate like feral hogs.

In essence, the feds have been feeding bananas to baboons.

Although the colleges rake in billions of dollars each year from the student-loan program, they have nothing to say about its flaws. The presidents of the nation’s most prestigious universities haven’t endorsed bankruptcy relief for distressed student debtors. They haven’t spoken out about the rapacious for-profit college industry. They’ve not criticized the Department of Education for garnishing elderly student debtors’ Social Security checks.

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Why haven’t college leaders called for reforming the student-loan program? Because they don’t give a damn.

They just want their bananas.

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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