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Student Loan Relief Is Educational Privilege

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about privilege. When white privilege, gender privilege, socio-economic privilege, or any other kind of privilege is mentioned, it’s never in a good way. This is because most of us have a profound distaste for unfairness. It doesn’t sit well with us. Regardless of where we are on the spectrum of privilege, we don’t like the scales to be tipped unfairly. This is precisely the button that President Biden’s Student Debt Loan Relief has pushed

student debt relief is wealth transfer to the privileged
student debt relief is wealth transfer to the privileged

The difference between this educational privilege and the other types is that this seemingly well-intentioned action by the federal government feeds a class differential system that implies that those with a formal education are more valuable and worthy than the rest of us, many of whom are self-taught. This is inaccurate and divisive.

As a society, we no longer find it acceptable that some jobs are open only to white people, only to men, only to straight people, or only to those who come from affluent families with all the right connections. So why would we continue to promote the notion that people who are self-taught are inferior to those with the privilege of a college education? The price of admission to many corporate and government positions should be a test of competency rather than simply a piece of paper that says that its holder completed a course of study.

What the Biden Administration Student Debt Loan Relief program* will do is transfer the obligation to pay student loans from the adults who applied for them and who signed to signify their intention to repay, over to others. Who are the “others” who will pay?

Some who will pay are the college educated people who worked hard to earn scholarships to avoid going into debt; and the ones who worked while going to college to graduate without debt; the ones who honorably paid the student debt they agreed to pay; the ones who made arrangements through employers or military service to have their education paid in full in exchange for hard work or service to our country; and the people who did a combination of these things.

Then there are the rest of us who didn’t have the privilege of traditional higher education. We are the millions of people whose hard work greases the wheels of our economy. We are the truck drivers, the plumbers, the auto mechanics, the customer service people, food service people, entrepreneurs, and every other self-taught or vocationally trained person. We are the people who will pay for an education we didn’t receive, didn’t agree to pay for, and who had no say in this burden being foisted upon us.

Let’s look at the people who will receive relief from their student loans. Most of us could go along with helping ease the burden of the education of people who dedicate their lives to helping others, such as social workers, teachers, therapists, medical professionals, and so on. These are the people who do meaningful work and make the world a better place. We would prefer, however, to support the education of these people through a well thought out plan that results from national conversation about all of the issues, including excessive interest rates, the timing of the clock that starts ticking after graduation, absurdly high tuition, and degrees that do not make students employable. The conversation should include possible solutions such as employer sponsored scholarships and internships. A unilateral, non-targeted, massive debt transfer, some of which will go to students from affluent families and graduate students who have more opportunities and greater earning capacity than the rest of us, is simply wrong.

Some of the beneficiaries of the Biden administration’s student debt relief plan are professional students, like the person I know who recently earned his 7th doctorate degree. It’s a free country. Anyone can be a professional student if that’s their choice. But why should hard-working Americans be forced to pay for that person’s choice to be a life-long student?

Some of the recipients are quite capable of repaying their own student debt, or they will be as they progress with their careers. In fact, according to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, higher earning Americans hold more student loan debt than the bottom twenty percent of earners**.

There has always existed an educational privilege in this country. Certain jobs are only open to college graduates. There are many jobs that could effectively be filled by a current employee who is qualified to do the work and who would be grateful for the recognition and bump in pay. Instead, these jobs are often given to young, inexperienced college graduates simply because that person has a degree. In many cases, it matters not the area of study.

Countless long-time employees have had the humiliating experience of training the green, new person knowing that person was earning more than them on day one of their employment. It’s demoralizing to watch these people advance up the ladder while the “uneducated” people work for years while bumping their heads on the ceiling of their thwarted careers.

The undercurrent of educational privilege has existed in the shadows for too long, and this action of the federal government contributes to greater division among us by promoting the notion that those who did not go to college are unqualified for the opportunities that are reserved solely for those who have the privilege of traditional higher education.

It is profoundly unfair to exacerbate this division by forcing the educationally underprivileged pay for it.

So let’s talk about what it means to be self taught. There are millions of us in the US who are autodidacts. Autodidacticism is education without the guidance of teachers. We may or may not have had some level of formal education. Many of us have created personal and professional success by adding value to our employers or in our own businesses. Notable contributions have been made by autodidacts, including those of Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Charles Dickens, The Wright Brothers, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, Henry Ford, and more recently, Bill Gates and many others.

To be an autodidact means that we read and learn on our own. We question and intently listen to others, especially to people who have achieved a level of success in their lives. We learn everything we can from anyone who is willing to share the wisdom they have acquired throughout their life journey. We take online courses, watch informational videos, and consume information through myriad sources. It's easier now than ever before to be an autodidact because of the availability and accessibility of information.

So, why would I, a successful survivor of abandonment and abuse, weigh in on this issue? It doesn’t “fit” my brand, which is all about helping others find purpose and create successful lives because of what we’ve been through. I’m speaking up on behalf of the millions of Americans who, like myself, have worked hard to make it on our own without the privilege of a traditional education. We are proof that it’s possible to find one’s purpose, contribute to the greater good, and succeed in life without a traditional education.

I am an autodidact. I emancipated from foster care when I was 16 years old. When I wasn’t working I was reading, mostly books from the library and discarded textbooks from friends who were in college. I took what in those days were called “correspondence courses” in the area of financial & estate planning, tax law and risk management. My education was paid by my employer in exchange for my agreement to work there for a specified period of time. I had graduated in the top ten of my high school class with lifetime membership in the California Scholarship Federation, but while my friends went to college, I went to work. When they went on to earn graduate degrees, I started my first company. When they began to work in their areas of pursuit, I was employing people with advanced degrees in the two social entrepreneurship companies that I founded and built to protect and defend the good people and organizations that care for children who have been abused. My work was no more valuable than that of my friends who went to college. Neither is theirs more worthwhile than mine.

Each of us has a good purpose. All of us have something of value to contribute to the world. There is dignity in every job. To pay for the education of some and not others is to suggest that what the formally educated person contributes is more worthy than the contribution of the millions of autodidacts throughout our nation. We’ve been underestimated for too long.

This is not an indictment of people who are or who want to be formally educated or on the good educators who have dedicated their lives to equipping the next generation. We are not against higher education. I personally believe strongly in higher education, especially in excellent Christian universities like Vanguard University, Baylor University, and Ave Maria University. Many of us self-taught Americans have helped pay for the education of others, especially our children and grandchildren so they can get what we didn’t. We encourage young people, especially those who are disadvantaged, to do the work to earn a degree that will equip them to live successful lives. I’m sure that we can all agree that we want the doctor who performs our surgery to receive a thorough, high-quality education.

What we don’t support is the inequitable payment of the education of others forced on people who had no say in the giving of what has been estimated by Penn Wharton at over $605 billion dollars*** to colleges and universities, many of which have endowments totaling in the billions****. The colleges and universities that charged the exorbitant tuitions got paid. And none of this conversation takes into consideration the impact this will have on inflation that will hurt us all, especially the most vulnerable, for years to come.

Proponents of this “student loan relief” argue that the world is a better place with more “educated” people in it. This statement implies that the people who have had a traditional college education add greater value to the world than the rest of us. Their analogy that we should all pay for the formal education of others in the same way that we should all pay for police and fire departments, public schools, and so on, is a false analogy. We do not all benefit from the college education of others, which is evidenced by the reality that a college education does not guarantee the development of integrity, honor and courage. Nor does it assure employment or good work ethic.

When we read in the White House fact sheet, " relief for borrowers who need it most," we think of people who are struggling with health problems and living under a mountain of medical bills. We think of veterans who can't make ends meet in this economy because they gave pieces of their mind, soul and body in service to our nation. As a former foster kid, I think of all the people who struggle through life because they were victimized when they were too little and too vulnerable to prevent it. These are the people who have no money, no family, and no safety net. They take out loans to pay for transportation so they can get to work, to pay for a place to live, for medical care and even for food. I know because these are the reasons I borrowed when I was a newly emancipated teenager who was one flat tire away from losing my job and being homeless. Aren't all these Americans the “borrowers who need it most?”

If, as a nation, we choose to provide free college tuition, we should all have a say in whether or not free education applies to all types of colleges, universities, vocational schools, etc., which degrees or certifications, and which students are eligible. We should have discussion on possible conditions attached to the tuition, such as completion of the degree or that recipients of the tax-payer provided education are required to do community service, military service, or to work in the area of their education for a specified number of years. We should vote on it and apply it fairly and evenly on a going forward basis.

We’re a nation of smart and innovative people who, if allowed to weigh in on this issue, could come up with a reasonable solution on which we could all compromise and vote to approve. The challenge is that it’s nearly impossible to find reasonable solutions because we’ve quit talking and listening to one another. Instead of thinking of each other as individuals with names and faces and distinct personalities, we lump people into groups of nameless masses. This needs to stop.

Let’s start talking again and find fair solutions to challenges like educational disparity. Let’s encourage corporations and all levels of government to create scholarships and internships. Let’s encourage small business owners to take an underprivileged young person under their wing and train them in their business. And above all else, let’s end the underestimation of people who do not hold a college degree.

To receive the free gift of student debt relief is privilege. To work hard to pay for something is to gain not only the thing for which we strive, but to gain dignity and honor, two things that students rarely learn in today’s classrooms.

Rhonda Sciortino, author of 15 books including Succeed Because Of What You've Been Through (featured on The Today Show), 30 Days to Happiness (featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show and included in her Kind Box), used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success.

Rhonda built two successful social entrepreneurial businesses, then turned her attention to helping others achieve real success by living their purpose. Rhonda is the founder of Successful Survivors Foundation, and she serves as the national champion of the Love Is Action Community Initiative.

This podcast will help you find and live your purpose and enjoy the real success that accompanies it. In it, you will uncover your authentic identity, discover the good character traits developed throughout your life experiences, and create actionable steps for living out the life assignments that are integral to your purpose. Subscribe now and share this with a friend.


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