It’s time to shut down the Bank of Uncle Stupid.
Here is a three-part plan for something practical the federal government could do to relieve college-loan debt. Step 1: The federal government should stop making college loans itself and cease guaranteeing any such loans. Step 2: It should prohibit educational lending by federally regulated financial institutions or, if that seems too heavy-handed, require the application of ordinary credit standards in any private educational lending, treating the student himself as the main credit risk in all cases, including those of secured or unsecured loans taken out by parents or other third parties for that student’s educational expenses. And 3: It should make student-loan debt dischargeable in ordinary bankruptcy procedures.
The most likely end result of this would be the effective abolition of government- and bank-based financing of college education in all but the most narrowly defined circumstances. Good riddance. That leaves about $1.5 trillion in existing debt on the table, a very large number from which the federal government derives very little income, about 0.1 percent a year, or $1.5 billion — a fact that should enter into our calculations about whether we attempt to collect every nickel of that money or, perhaps, slowly forgive some of that debt for students who keep up with their payments and are otherwise good citizens, maybe at a rate of 2 percent of the principal a year.
It is time to shut down the Bank of Uncle Stupid.
Colleges will have two choices: Bring their tuitions down to a more reasonable rate or, if they are so inclined, work out financing arrangements of their own. This would not present too much trouble to splendidly endowed schools such as Harvard and Princeton, or to public schools with substantial resources at their disposal. A senior official of my alma mater, the University of Texas, once caused a stir by confessing — in public — that UT Austin doesn’t need to charge tuition at all but does so mainly as a population-control mechanism. The problem, he said, wasn’t money as such but the fact that the state would not let him raise admissions standards. Admittedly, UT has become a little more selective in recent years.
I have a theory about why there has been so much tuition inflation: inflation.