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In all the discussions under way to stimulate the economy now and prepare for new kinds of growth for the future, no one is talking about one obvious option—forgive the enormous debt of America’s students. Washington is pumping trillions of dollars into banks and corporations to make them liquid and whole and that’s OK, but I strongly suggest Congress relieve the burden on its youngest citizens who are being crushed by huge tuition costs and stupendous debt loads.
I just came from a discussion session of Parsons’ students working on their research projects for my lecture series, Design at the Edge. They are amazingly smart students. They’ve broken up into groups of five or six. Each group is about to do ethnographic research on their own Gen Y generation and create a design brief for a project/service/experience that will help their cohort get through these tough times.
In their early discussion, one of the most dominate and defining themes is the enormous amount of tuition and debt that defines their generation. They worry about how this debt will limit their future choices and reduce the amount of risk they can take. There are all kinds of differences between the Boomer and Gen Y generations but debt load is one of the most striking. Gen Yers are paying much higher tuition than the Boomers and their debt loads are much, much heavier. Yes, I realize that many Boomer parents are paying the tuition for Gen Yers, but it is amazing how responsible, if not guilty, their children feel about this burden. And for a huge percentage, borrowing is the only way they can get through school.
So why not have the federal government take on the debt of these students. We’re breaking all the rules at the moment to survive, why not do this and help the American, Korean, European and all the other kids studying at US colleges and universities? Declare a debt holiday on our college students.
Where can we find the billions to relieve students of their debt? Start with the billions of tax-payer money that was transferred as bonuses to Wall Streeters. That should come to around $20 billion. Throw in the $70 billion in the Senate Stimulus bill for the AMT—Alternative Minimum Tax. It gives upper income middle income tax payers money back on federal income taxes. In other words, it’s a tax break for Boomers. Better to give the break directly to Gen Yers. They are, after all, the future.
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