My Turn: Kuster joins Washington’s magic-wand wavers
A few days ago U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster left a robocall on my answering machine. She wanted me to participate in a telephone town hall about keeping student loan rates artificially low.
It didn’t take her long to drink the water in Washington. She thinks that whatever the problem, Washington can wave a magic wand and the problem will go away. What she and the rest of Washington fail to understand is that each wave of the wand has many consequences, and many of those are unexpected. Even in the rare cases where the wand wave has the desired effect, there are negative consequences elsewhere. Even when it’s as simple as taxing or borrowing to keep some people’s student loan rates low, there are negative consequences felt by each person who pays increased taxes or each person who might otherwise have invested the money borrowed by the government.
Twenty or 30 years ago Washington decided that college education was an unqualified good thing, and that everyone should have one. Legislators established loan and grant programs to make college education affordable and available to everyone. The result was that lots more people went to college. However, many of them would never benefit from a college education because they were going to end up in a field where their cost of college would not add to their earning power. Then there are the people who drop out when they find that a college education isn’t for them but still have loans that won’t be forgiven. Wouldn’t these people be better off if they’d just gone to work after high school?
Now that the system is in place, and colleges have expanded to bring in more students (and loan money), Washington can’t turn things around. Any discussion of sending fewer people to college is treated as heresy. The education lobby would have the head of any legislator who suggests that universal college education funded by loans guaranteed and subsidized by the taxpayers isn’t a good idea.
So the beat goes on: Kids get into college programs that will never pay off financially. Some kids who never should have started drop out of college.
Then members of both groups find that they can’t pay off the loans that “advisers” told them were a good idea. If I were one of the young people misguided into 15 years of trying to pay college loans while working at a low-paying job, I would have a great deal of resentment toward guidance counselors, college admissions departments and the wand-wavers who think they know what’s best for everyone.
Maybe it’s time to talk about the true value of college education. Perhaps we could even talk about how the wand-wavers in Washington more often turn out to be wicked witches than fairy godmothers.
The hubris of those who are willing to force their good intentions on all of us has resulted in what was once the greatest country on earth becoming a nation in debt and decline.
(John Lewicke lives in Mason.)