Student loan forgiveness proves that if government can’t help Americans, what good is it?

North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx is among a group of conservative lawmakers who have aggressively criticized President Joe Biden’s student loan relief program — see the editor’s note below.

When President Joe Biden announced last week a student loan relief plan, many Americans reacted as though he had encouraged the overthrow of the government or stolen classified documents.

Biden announced the U.S. Department of Education will cancel up to $20,000 in debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for non-Pell Grant recipients. Pell Grants, for the uninitiated, are a staple of federal financial aid and given out to students displaying “exceptional financial need.”

I was surprised to see posts from lifelong friends on social media decrying the plan for its unfairness — especially from ones I feel certain went through school with the help of Pell Grants. Several wrote something along the lines: “I chose a college I could afford even though I was accepted at better and pricier ones, I worked my way through college, and it’s not fair these entitled kids don’t have to pay back student loans.”

Let me set the record straight on a number of issues.

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville used to be a cost-friendly way to obtain a college degree. I don’t come from a family of great means, and I used to joke that my parents said I could go to any college I wanted to, as long as I got in-state tuition prices.

When I started at UT in fall 1982, my quarterly costs, including tuition, room and board, ran around $1,000, give or take. I, like many other students, attended three quarters with the fourth being summer school, when I took time off for full-time work. Thus, a four-year degree cost just over $12,000. I worked more than 50 hours a week summers in a tire store, not a glamorous job, but one that paid enough that it enabled me to minimize work during the academic year and not have to take out loans.

For the 2022-2023 academic year, tuition alone at UT is more than $13,200. Add on to that room and board and the current cost is $25,300, for a four-year cost of over $100,000. That’s a 670% increase in in-state costs since my peers and I began college.

Even accounting for increases in salaries adults have gained in that period, there is no way my family and I could have afforded UT at today’s prices without taking out loans and big ones at that.

What’s more, there is a great misunderstanding about who student loan debt affects and how it affects the economy.

Prior to my work with the Tennessee Lookout, I spent several years analyzing information from the Federal Reserve Bank. In the course of that time, I figure I wrote about 125 pieces, and the only analysis I remember is a series I wrote on student loan debt: I was both shocked and fascinated during the research portion of my work. Given last week’s uproar, I decided to revisit the series and lay out some cold truths.

When I last studied the topic in third quarter of 2019, Americans owed more than $1.9 trillion in student debt. And the debt isn’t owed by, to use Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s phrase, “slacker baristas who take seven years to finish college.” Read more

Veteran journalist: I read “The 1619 Project.” Critics need to calm down.

“The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” is displayed at a New York City bookstore on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

You’d have to be completely out of the political loop—and I suspect you aren’t, if you are reading this—to not have heard of “The 1619 Project” and the brouhaha surrounding it.

A publication of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times, “1619” first appeared in an August 2019 issue of the New York Times Magazine. In May 2020, Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her opening essay.

It was in 1619 that African slaves were first brought to America—the year before the Mayflower arrived—and the dust jacket of the expanded book version of the project refers to it as “a new origin story.” 1619, writes Hannah-Jones, is when the real story of America began, not 1776 when the American Revolution began.

I managed to miss out on reading the original version in the Times and I may not have maintained interest in it were it not for former President Donald Trump. Trump introduced many people to the project in September 2020, when he lumped it in with critical race theory, an academic concept many Americans had never heard of before. He called both “a crusade against American history . . . toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together, will destroy our country.”

I’m one of the people who had never heard of critical race theory before and now that I’m familiar with it, I feel confident telling you that your kids in public school aren’t going to get schooled in it. While “The 1619 Project” has developed a curriculum that can be taught in schools, I also feel confident that wasn’t going to happen in many public schools even before the legislatures in Tennessee and some other states passed laws earlier this year banning the instruction of critical race theory. [Editor’s note: North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar bill, but it was successfully vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.]

But I like a challenge and there’s nothing like the president of the United States calling writing “toxic” to make me want to check it out. I bought the book as soon as I could, read it as fast as possible and now I’m here to review it.

There’s been so much Sturm und Drang over “The 1619 Project” from right wing groups like “Moms For Liberty” and Trump supporters, I was surprised the book didn’t arrive with a big “Trigger warning!” sticker on it. I went into the book with an open mind, frankly expecting to be surprised by historical revelations.

I wasn’t surprised, as much of the book seems to be common sense, but I learned a hell of a lot. Read more