Peter Dreier read the previous post about the billionaire Robert F. Smith giving a grant to erase the debt of the class of 2019, and he wrote to express his strong belief that government action is needed, not the generosity of philanthropists.

For college students across the nation, their student loans are a crushing burden that cause some to drop out and others to decide that they can’t afford a house, a car, or further education. Education is a right, which should be available at minimal or no cost for those who want to earn a degree.

He wrote:

I’m sure you agree that this bit of philanthropy is great for the students at Morehouse College and great PR for Mr. Smith, but this is NOT the way to reduce student debt in the U.S. There are more than 44 million student borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. His gesture is getting too much and the wrong kind of publicity. We obviously shouldn’t have to depend on charity to meet basic economic and educational needs like college tuition and room-and-board. We need the federal government to erase the debt and, going forward, increase financial aid, while requiring the wealthiest universities and colleges to use their tax-exempt endowments to expand scholarship grants (not loans) to low income and middle class students. And we should end all federal financial aid to for-profit colleges, which are mostly rip-offs and a huge source of student debt, especially since so few students actually graduate, so they owe lots of money without a degree or decent job prospects.

It would have been better journalism if, in reporting the Morehouse story, reporters also noted that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have great proposals around student debt that doesn’t depend on noblesse oblige. Access to financial aid for college students should be an entitlement, not a lottery. And billionaires like Mr. Smith should be paying much higher taxes so we can afford to give every college student a debt-free education.

My response:

i agree completely.