By Morton Marcus
Lyle Lendour is a concerned Hoosier. He wants Indiana to resolve its problems, not put them off by fighting about them.
“Year after year we move like snails, low to the ground, hoping no one notices our efforts to advance lest they step on us,” he says.
“Spill it,” I say. “What’s stuck in your craw today?”
“Student loans,” Lyle says. “They are or are not a national problem? Students and their parents borrow money to send the kids to college and then they moan about paying those loans back. They don’t complain about paying off auto and housing loans, but that would take us down a different path.
“Let’s just stick with the basic idea and forget the side issues. Forget the so-called colleges that rip off everyone by making fraudulent loans. Forget the real colleges that raise rates and fees because they know the students can get loans to cover those increases.”
“OK,” I say. “Let’s also forget the monuments to administrative ego that drive building campaigns to turn campuses into high end resorts.”
“Right,” Lyle agrees. “But what do we do about the tremendous burden students and their parents have brought upon themselves? Bernie Sanders and others want higher education to be free or offered at greatly reduced prices. That does not reduce the costs of education; it only transfers them to the general public.”
“And?” I say.
“And,” he says, “I would have us think of how that education is used. We have some programs in place to forgive part or all of a loan when the student’s career choices coincide with societal concerns. For example, teaching or practicing medical skills in under-served areas can trigger loan forgiveness.”
“You like that?” I ask.
“Definitely,” Lyle asserts. “It offers an incentive to direct your efforts toward meeting society’s needs. We worry about the future of small towns and distressed cities, but we don’t do much to help those towns and cities. If that is a real concern, let’s put our money where our rhetoric is. Encourage people to work and live in small towns and distressed cities.”
“So,” I say. “You would have tax credits for education borrowers who choose to live and work in Terre Haute, Sullivan, Princeton or Crothersville.”
“Exactly,” Lyle answers. “We use incentives for companies to locate in Indiana, but we don’t specify they will receive greater support if they choose Gary or Marion over Fishers.”
“Is that fair to Hubert and Henrietta Hoosier who live and work in Connersville where they were born and went to high school, but never had student loans?” I say.
“No, it’s not fair,” he admits. “But fairness alone cannot be the test of every public policy. Hubert and Henrietta will benefit if Connersville is a place with more young people, more income and better services.”
“That’s good enough for me,” I say.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to email@example.com.