When it comes to higher education, the biggest issue facing young people today is the cost. Nearly 45 million Americans are struggling to pay back loans to the tune of a combined $1.7 trillion. That’s more than credit card debt! To make matters worse, student loan debt can’t be refinanced and can’t be escaped through bankruptcy.
The main reason for skyrocketing debt is out-of-control tuition. It wasn’t always like that. In the 1960s, young people could “work their way through college,” because average tuition was just $4,300 (in 2021 dollars). Today it is more than $14,000. And that’s just tuition!
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s higher education policy starts with the debt/cost problem and then goes on to propose some exciting system-level innovations.
In the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, Congress made student debt non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. That put student debt in a different category from medical debt or credit card debt, making it inescapable and sentencing millions of young people to an entire lifetime of debt servitude.
One of the main champions of this legislation in Congress was Joe Biden. Wall Street had been clamoring for bankruptcy “reform” for many years. Corporations use bankruptcy frequently as a financial maneuver to get out of bad investments, but the Act made that impossible for many consumers, especially student debtors.
People should not be on the hook for a lifetime for a choice they made when they were 18 or 20 years old, a choice that was forced upon them by exorbitant higher education costs. As President, RFK Jr. will propose legislation to Congress to repeal the unfair provisions of the Bankruptcy Act and replace it with genuine protection for indebted consumers.
You might find it hard to believe that it is illegal to refinance student loans. Unlike most other forms of debt, a debtor cannot, for example, borrow against their home in order to pay off their loans. The free market is not allowed to operate – to the detriment of the debtor and to the benefit of the creditor.
Allowing students to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates gives them a chance to get a handle on monthly payments. If businesses can refinance loan debt, so should students. It’s time to treat college loans debt like other debts, with multiple options of paying them off.
In the 2021-2022 Congress, Rep. Eric Salwell introduced the No Student Loan Interest Act, which would abolish interest on new and existing student loans. Unfortunately, the bill went nowhere. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will lobby Congress to pass legislation along the lines of Salwell’s bill.
It would bring enormous relief to debtors. Since the interest would be cut to zero retroactively, millions of borrowers would be immediately debt-free. Millions more would see their balances and monthly payments shrink dramatically.
Today the higher education system is trapped in a vicious circle, where rising tuition forces students to take out loans, and the ready availability of loans encourages universities to raise tuition. They can do it because the banks are on the hook in case of default, not the schools. Universities therefore have no incentive to keep tuition costs under control. Furthermore, if colleges and universities were on the hook for the debts that students incurred, they’d be more careful to only accept serious students who are likely to graduate.
In March of 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps, which sent youth volunteers abroad to perform acts of service in developing nations. JFK’s nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., will extend this idea to include domestic service as well, and make the program available to anyone who has completed high school.
College is not for everyone. Young people want to get out into the world. They want to learn skills. They want to become adults. They want to do something meaningful. The domestic Peace Corps will give them a new option besides college or the military. They will learn skills, develop socially, and have an amazing adventure of service to others.
The service they perform can include infrastructure repair, care for the sick and elderly, tutoring of schoolchildren, ecological restoration work, and the meeting of other social needs that become clear as the program develops.
The original GI Bill paid for returning WWII veterans to go to college. The new GI Bill will extend that support to any young person who serves the country in the new domestic Peace Corps. We will recognize that valuable service to our country and our planet need not be military only.
College is not for everyone. Four years of education (plus grad school) is necessary to train scholars, engineers, doctors, and scientists, but most jobs simply do not require a college education. In fact, only about a quarter of people with degrees have jobs that are related to them.
Approximately 41 percent of all recent graduates are working jobs that do not require a college degree. College degrees are now required for many jobs that once only required a high school diploma. Some 17 percent of hotel clerks and 23.5 percent of amusement park attendants hold 4-year degrees.
Unfortunately, federal funding is only available for traditional degree programs. Our administration will explore making Title IV funding available for other kinds of programs, including “microcredentials” and “nanocredentials” which give people the specific, useful training they need in the job marketplace .