OXFORD — I was reared in a working family that probably would have been described as middle class in the mid-20th century.
My brother and I had all the necessities of life and then some.
But when I got to college at Ole Miss, I immediately discovered that my financial resources were below that of most of my peers.
Thanks to my parents’ support and my own summer jobs, I graduated college debt-free, with the exception of a monthly payment on a 3-year-old Ford automobile my father had made the down payment on three months before I was to finish school.
Less than three decades later, my two children also graduated college — one from law school — debt-free.
They, like I, were supported by their parents but also helped themselves with part-time and summer jobs.
If there were student loans in those days, we never considered them.
I can’t say the same for my grandchildren, who did incur some student-loan debt, thanks to the recent popularity and accessibility of such loans, which many families with far more resources than mine had back in the day now use.
To be fair, a college education costs considerably more now than it did then, even when inflation is factored in.
But those student loans and other financial handouts from the government are a big reason for the increased costs.
A recent USA Today editorial noted that “in recent years, college costs have soared along with the amount of federal money pouring into grants and loans for higher education.
“This is happening not in spite of all of the federal assistance but because of it,” the editorial said. “A study by the New York Federal Reserve found that every dollar of new federally subsidized loans results in 60 cents in added tuition.
“Tuition has skyrocketed because of professors who spend too much time out of classrooms, money-losing sports, resistance to online instruction, underused facilities, expansive bureaucracies, lavish building campaigns and efforts to buy higher magazine rankings.”
The thrust of the editorial criticized two Democratic presidential hopefuls, U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, for proposing massive debt relief and, for some, outright forgiveness of student loans.
Warren’s plan would cost $1.25 trillion over 10 years, providing up to $50,000 in debt relief, depending on family income. Sanders’ plan would cost $2.2 trillion over 10 years, including forgiving all $1.6 trillion in existing student debt.
I agree with the editorial, which said:
“The most obvious thing to say is that proposals like these are arbitrary and inequitable. They make fools out of people who scrimped and saved, ate ramen noodles and slaved away at jobs, to keep their borrowing down.
“The repayment plans are also unfair to people who have already paid back their loans. They undermine the concept of debts as legal obligations. And they perpetuate the myth that taxing ‘the rich’ and ‘Wall Street’ can painlessly finance any matter of costly education, health care and environmental programs.”
The plethora of Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination — there were 24 of them at last count — seem to be stumbling over each other pandering to younger voters and minorities.
Give credit to longshot candidate Andrew Yang for at least being fair with giveaways — aiming at the future instead of paying for past miscalculations. He proposes giving every American above the age of 18 a monthly handout of $1,000, no strings attached, paid for by some sort of user tax aimed at companies benefitting most from automation.
As the USA Today editorial suggested, one thing young people should have learned by the time they get to college is there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Obviously Senators Sanders and Warren are betting they haven’t learned that lesson. Or, maybe they have. Just let someone else pay for it.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.