Donald Trump and Student Loans

This column has written many times, in vain, about student loans, beginning here on May 8, 2014, with “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Student Debt Has Got to Go!” but Republicans have yet to pull the fast one on the Democrats that was recommended in the columns.

However good an idea student loans may have been in the beginning, they have become a scam. That was probably inevitable: Washington produces scams the way cows produce manure—though we must pause to note that cow manure can be far more beneficial than Washington legislation.

Student loans were a two-step scam: first, the government proposed cheap loans (yea!); then, when students, having learned nothing useful in college, were suffering under mind-boggling debt, the government proposed to forgive the loans (yea!). “Yea!” unless you’re a taxpayer, and perhaps one who didn’t go to college or who did go to college on borrowed funds and then paid off the loan yourself. Then you’ve been had. If you object, you’re a racist (but you’re probably a racist anyway).

Actually, and not surprisingly, there is evidence that student loans cause tuition rates not just to go up but to go up faster than the amount of the loans.

President Biden has been proposing cancelling student loans for almost his entire presidency. He’s even been smacked down by the Supreme Court, but that just doesn’t seem to faze him. He just does it again—while, at the same time, saying Donald Trump will be a dictator! You can’t make this stuff up. So far, Biden’s loan forgiveness has cost more than $100 billion.

Donald Trump should steal a march on Biden: he should propose forgiving all student loans for people making less than, say, $40,000 a year (if you don’t like that amount, pick another) and—this is the important part—cancel all support for higher education in order to pay for the loan cancellation. Cancelling federal aid to higher education would save billions!

If canceling aid to all colleges seems too radical, he could propose canceling aid to those colleges that have huge, or perhaps only large, endowments.

People who didn’t go to college could feel rightly aggrieved at the windfall the college debtors receive, but they—and indeed the whole country—could benefit from ending the college support scam.

Many, and probably most, of the bad ideas that afflict this country have come from the academy. Defunding those institutions is a giant step toward sanity.

Trump could make a big deal out of stopping the gravy train to colleges. The lefties will howl, of course, and their howling will seem like a cheering section for candidate Trump.

And it’s true that a lot of high-paid administrators and grievance counselors at all those colleges will lose their jobs. What will they do then? Become baristas? That alone may be worth the effort.

There are several points to understand about college. The first, and probably most important, is that most students learn absolutely nothing in college. Bryan Caplan in The Case Against Education reports that “barely half of American adults know the earth goes around the sun.” (Read that again, slowly.)

In their book, Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa essentially agree with Caplan: “American education is characterized by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.” How could that be? They explain: “On average, [students] report spending only 12 hours per week studying.” And “fifty percent of the students in our sample reported that they had not taken a single course during the prior semester that required more than twenty pages of writing, and one third had not taken one that required even forty pages of reading per week.”

So: a college graduate winds up as a barista, making whatever baristas make, but it’s not nearly enough to pay off four years’ of loans taking such courses as “LGBT2290: Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies” at—wait for it—Cornell! (Look it up!)

A second point to understand is that student loans have fueled the huge increase in administrative costs. Forbes reports that “between 1976 and 2018, full-time administrators and other professionals employed by those institutions increased by 164 percent and 452 percent, respectively.” And that “there are now three times as many administrators and other professionals… as there are faculty (on a per-student basis) at the leading schools in the country.” That’s ridiculous.

Why go to college? The answer is not to learn anything but only to get credentialed. College graduates earn more than twice as much as students who complete only one, two, or three years combined! But how can that be if they don’t know the earth goes around the sun?

Trump will have a field day, making that point over and over again. And again! We should find other ways to credential young people—as they do in other countries—and stop rich people from getting their loans paid off by poor people. The pointy-headed intellectuals won’t like it, but they don’t plan to vote for Trump anyway.

The new mantra, short enough for bumper stickers, can be: “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, College Support Has to Go!”

Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of the Education and Research Institute and a Director of Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review.

Email Daniel Oliver at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

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About Daniel Oliver

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Email him at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.