by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center writes about North Carolinians’ response to student debt concerns.
Student loan debt has reached the dizzying level of nearly $1.6 trillion—largely due to ever-soaring tuition prices and students taking on financial burdens that far outweigh their earning potential. The issue has gripped national attention to the point that presidential hopefuls are now promising various forms of student debt relief as a central campaign platform.
Young people, in particular, are captivated by promises of “free college” and “no questions asked” loan forgiveness. However, even though it seems like an “easy fix,” not all Americans support the idea of broad-sweeping loan forgiveness—a reality captured by a recent Civitas Institute poll of 500 likely voters in North Carolina.
In the poll, conducted June 8-10, 57 percent of those polled said they do not think the government should pay off student loans. But it’s not because they don’t think student loan debt is a problem. On the contrary, 84 percent said they thought student loan debt is a “serious issue.”
However, although the majority of the state’s citizens agree that “the student debt problem” is “serious,” they are divided on what they believe is the cause. For instance, 11 percent say that a weak economy is to blame because it prevents students “from getting good starting jobs.” Another 19 percent think that towering student debt is caused by students’ irresponsible borrowing practices.
Interestingly, however, a plurality of respondents—40 percent—think that “federal financial aid has worked to drive up the cost of tuition.” That’s the argument famously made by Education Secretary William Bennett in 1987. According to the “Bennett Hypothesis,” the more financial aid the federal government makes available to students, the more colleges and universities will take advantage of the government’s generosity and increase the cost of tuition.