Letter: Student debt forgiveness merely acknowledges what decades of irresponsible education policies have wrought

(Mariam Zuhaib | AP Photo) People in favor of canceling student debt protest outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 30, 2023, as decisions are expected in Washington.

The Utah Legislature has been running a bad experiment in public higher education these past 40 years and it is long past time to recognize and rectify their destructive errors.

Post WWII, members of our legislatures valued an educated citizenry. Our recent legislators, not so much. Spreading the cost of a higher education among the citizenry’s whole population was considered a social good for all. Educating our youth, or even the not-so-young, was supported by our Legislature’s distribution of taxes toward education.

I don’t have the dollar numbers, but I do have the experience of paying all my own undergraduate tuition. As a late baby-boomer, I did not need to take out student loans. Working part time and going to the university were compatible because the Greatest Generation Legislature valued higher education. I could pay rent, buy groceries, repair my aging Volkswagen beetle, and pay my portion of the tuition while working — humbly waiting tables and working retail.

Since then, the Legislature has diverted the taxes, previously reserved to support our students, to other projects (like the for-profit Little Cottonwood gondola and the for-profit inland port).

For 40 years now, more students have been forced to take out loans to become educated citizens. Forgiving student debt is just a recognition that policies of greatly reducing the higher education budget during the past 40 years have been an irresponsible set of experiments.

The longer-term solution is for state legislatures (and governors) to recognize the value of education and to once again, support the public education of our neighbors, friends, and families.

Kirk Nichols, Salt Lake City

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