The student loan forgiveness plan has been doing more than raising eyebrows across America, and not just those of a single political party. Everyday Americans are sharing their views on why this is a good idea or not. Talking with Heather Beaven, CEO of The Florida Endowment FOUNDATION for Florida’s Graduates, this special edition of The Big Five poses points for consideration and discussion.
Tell readers a bit about yourself.
CEO of Florida’s largest school-to-career initiative (https://www.flgraduates.org) with extensive experience in economic and workforce development. Navy veteran married to an Army soldier and raised two daughters in Flagler County.
What is your background as it pertains to education?
After ten years of working with under and unemployed adults, I decided to focus exclusively on youth-centered services. In the last twenty years, www.flgraduates.org has served over 40,000 students. We focus on helping teens overcome their particular obstacles, creating real-world experiences for students, and building a plan to help ease the transition into adulthood.
You brought up a number of valid points on the student loan topic. Please share your perspective and why.
College entry, including navigating financial assistance, is geared toward families who have both time and resources. There are precious few opportunities for students to think about and plan for their futures during the school day. Our K-12 education system does a good job connecting students to post-secondary but we don’t do a good job helping them complete their degree or certification. In fact, only about 25% of students entering post-secondary education will graduate on time. It’s bad for the American economy and it’s bad for personal finances. The reality is many young people and their families are making long-term financial decisions about attending college with little or no professional help. We need to reform that.
Additionally, loans are managed by private companies https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/who-is-my-loan-servicer and it’s big business. Navient, for example, manages 12 million loans with an average $5 billion in annual revenues. Their CEO earns $7.8 million dollars per year. Then we have taxpayer-subsidized colleges, technical schools and universities paying $300,000 in median salaries to their president.
My point is – there is a lot of money in the student loan business and much of it comes directly out of the pockets of people who are struggling to jumpstart their lives. I think it’s important to note too that America incentivizes human behavior that improves our economy all of the time. Our federal tax structure incentivizes homeownership and business creation. Our state’s property tax exemptions are designed to prioritize homeownership and agriculture. We do those things because we know that a taxpayer investment in those things improves our collective economy. The same is true of advanced education. In fact, the last data I reviewed estimated that an adult with a degree will earn a million dollars more over the course of a lifetime than will a person whose formal education ended with a high school diploma.
Why would we not want to make it as easy as possible for Americans to access knowledge that helps them as individuals as well as our society at large?
There are people who have graduated with no debt or spent years paying school loans off. How do we address their concerns of fairness?
Americans invest in services that they will never access all of the time. We pay for public defenders that, God willing, we will never need. We invested in the GI Bill for people serving in a uniform that we will never wear. Our offer a tax credit for children we may never have. We pay for Social Security and Medicare even if we don’t live long enough to realize a return on that investment. We do that because it makes good economic sense but we also do it because, fundamentally, we know that it strengthens America.
How do you think we can better approach higher education from a feasibility standpoint – whether it’s trade certification or a college education?
As I mentioned, I think there is way too much money being billed to students that has no relevance to the quality of the product they are purchasing. I’d like to see Congress and state legislators take action to protect students. Biden’s student loan relief opens the door for that conversation. I’d also like to see human resource professionals reevaluate both degree requirements and salaries. I suspect many jobs requiring a four-year degree don’t actually need a degree for the employee to be successful in them. Conversely, jobs requiring a master’s degree should not be paying $40,000 per year. Finally, I think it is vital for high schools to give students the time and resources they need to make a post-graduation plan.
Our Jobs for Florida’s Graduates program, for example, is an elective class that gives students an entire year to think about and plan for what’s coming next. Colleges need to up their retention game as well. Many students need individualized support during early college to address the barriers they are facing before they get so overwhelmed they quit school.