• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Friday Fragments

Debt forgiveness, a varsity letter and Joan Jett.

 

May 31, 2018
 
 

I was intrigued to see Wayne State University’s announcement about forgiving outstanding debts of former students to get them to return. The program will cover up to $1,500 per student.

Off the top of my head, it sounds like a potentially great idea. When we look at the records of students who were previously enrolled and didn’t return or graduate, a shocking number of them have financial “holds” on their accounts. Sometimes the holds are for significant amounts, but sometimes they’re relatively small.

“Relatively” is the key word there. If you’re really broke, even a “small” amount of money can be prohibitive. For a student who’s already skipping meals to make ends meet, a fifty dollar debt may as well be fifty thousand.  For-profit colleges knew that, which is why they didn’t charge application fees.

Yes, there’s an obvious “moral hazard” problem with debt forgiveness. A student who sacrificed to pay her debts may be annoyed to discover that she didn’t have to.  But for smallish amounts, given how close to the edge economically many students are, that strikes me as missing the point.  Someone who can’t afford a fifty dollar debt isn’t gloating about having it forgiven, and isn’t living high on the hog. And from a macro perspective, a small writeoff that makes the difference pays for itself many, many, many times over. 

It’s a variation on “basic needs,” but applied retroactively.  Clearing up old debt frees up money for current needs. The concept makes sense.

I’d love to hear about Wayne State’s experience with this. If it works, it could easily be tried in other places.

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The Boy earned his varsity letter in track this week.

That’s remarkable enough in itself, especially given that half of his chromosomes come from me, and that I’ve never been described as “athletic.” (Jim Gaffigan: “I”m what they call “indoorsy.” Dave Barry: “I have Writer’s Bod.”) He has worked hard for it for three years now, and rightly savored the achievement.

If he didn’t get it this year, he would automatically have received it next year just for being a senior. But he told me that wouldn’t mean anything. For him, the whole point was to earn it.

I’m glad he earned it, but I’m proud that he wanted to.

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A viral tweet I saw this week claimed that the #1 song in the country on your 14th birthday determines your life.

According to Wikipedia, the #1 song in the country on my 14th birthday was “Abracadabra,” by the Steve Miller Band.

Nooooooooooope.  Hard pass.

I only missed Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” by a few months.  Timing is everything...

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