Debt-Free Future

Morehouse College: the academic institution which is renowned for producing “Morehouse Men” who demonstrate acuity, practice integrity, exhibit agency, are committed to brotherhood, and strive to leave consequential lives. Its alumni include the likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Spike Lee, and Donn Clendon.

Who could ever imagine that one day the class of 2019 would receive their diplomas and the news that all of their student loan debt had been cleared? Well on May 19, 2019, Robert F. Smith a billionaire and the richest black man in America did just that--he cleared the student loan debts of every single Morehouse graduate.

 

As Smith said in his commencement speech, “We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus.” A class of 396 young men are now stepping out into the world, diploma in hand and the weight of student loans off their shoulders. They are inspired to take action to change the world with one less barrier in their way. This one act will change these young men’s lives, their families’ lives, and their entire communities for decades to come. Graduates called it “a blessing,” “the most amazing thing,” and,  “simply an act of high grace.” Graduate John Cooper said, “Not only does this donation help create generational wealth, but it inspires people to give back. The fact that I know somebody who paid off $98,000 of my student loans makes me just want to go out and just give to people even more than I did before.” Graduate Aaron Mitchom said, “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

 

This gift came as a surprise to everyone in attendance, including the President of Morehouse David A. Thomas who remarked after that, “this was a liberation gift, meaning this frees these young men from having to make their career decisions based on their debt, this allows them to pursue what they are passionate about.”

 

Smith not only provided the grant to clear all of the class of 2019’s debt, but he challenged all of the Alumni in attendance to do the same for future classes. He said, “Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community… We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.” Although the statement is focused on the black community supporting itself against the racist institutions which characterize our society, it is a sentiment which we should all take to heart. We are enough when we come together as a community, as a society, to support each and every individual for the collective good.

 

As a current student myself, I am, of course, so happy for these graduates, but god damn do I want someone to pay off my student loans! I want to be a public school teacher when I graduate and I know that my estimated $35,000 salary will not be enough to pay off my mere $6,000 in loans for at least 20 years.

The current state of student loans is predatory, and they only serve to widen the wealth gap. They disincentivize the achievement of a higher education and burden families with debt and bad credit for decades. This especially applies to students of color like those at Morehouse, who take out $8,000 more in student loans than their white peers. In short, student loans are an agent of white supremacy in that they perpetuate the economic and social oppression of people of color. Every year thousands of people fall behind and even default on their loans, even if they are employed, even if they work to pay each month they may still miss on the interest payments. Over all, the majority of seniors at four-year colleges — about two-thirds — are carrying student loan debt. In 2017, that average was nearly $29,000, adjusted for inflation, that same average was only about $13,000 in 1996.

 

Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic Presidential Candidate, has already made student loan clearance a key component of her platform. However, it would only apply to students in certain financial situations. Other candidates like Bernie Sanders have called for higher education to be completely free. In the meantime, though, what are we to do with the thousands of students graduating college every single year with an average of $29,000 in student loans? Especially at Seattle University, we have to ask why billionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos don’t help graduates here in our city, or why the two anonymous donors of $42 million to Seattle University didn’t aim their money to helping the SU graduates with debt but rather to build a new science building. It would be put to better use paying off student loan debt, paying for infrastructure in cities like Flint, Michigan, and funding research efforts to fight climate change. Robert Smith did not intend for his investment into our future to be a blip in history, he meant for it to be spark to incite greater social and economic change at the hands of billionaires and college students alike.