Steve Bullock: What my $100,000 in student debt taught me (Opinion)
Like those Americans fortunate enough to go to college, the student debt problem is personal for me. I wasn’t in a position to foot the bill up front. College visits were beyond my family’s financial means, so I showed up to classes without having ever visited campus.
I worked my way through every semester clearing tables, filling pop machines and doing whatever else I could to help ease the burden.
In law school, I showed up with a credit card and borrowed my way to a degree. When I graduated, I had over $100,000 in loans — more than $175,000 in today’s dollars.
I will never forget the day my wife, Lisa, and I finally paid off our student debt.
Before millions of Americans tune in to hear about the Democratic Party’s plan to move beyond Trump, we must ask ourselves — what is our plan to make their lives better?
The fact is, while promises of free college and total loan forgiveness make for flashy press releases, they aren’t serious solutions for most people’s daily lives.
With four in five Americans not carrying any student debt to begin with, these proposals could spend trillions on a bailout that would only benefit 20% of Americans.
As I meet with folks across the country, they repeatedly tell me this election should be about ideas that work. They don’t need more big promises that look good in a tweet but fail to deliver real change.
So, what can we do?
We can start with a smart approach to lowering student debt. We should limit student loan interest rates and crack down on predatory debt services that charge exorbitant rates. You shouldn’t be charged more for a loan to go to school than for a loan to buy a home.
We should end the fly-by-night for-profits like Trump University that squeeze profits out of vulnerable families. We should incentivize more employers to partner with their employees to pay down their debts. We should make more aid available to those who need it most. And we should keep our promise of loan forgiveness to those who commit to a career in public service, while expanding the scope of this commitment to underserved communities and small towns.
If we can do that in Montana, we can do that in states all across the country.
That’s why I’ll ensure every American can access two-year community college as well as career and technical education programs without the need for loans. You shouldn’t have to invest the time and money into a four-year education just to gain the skills for a lifetime of fulfilling work.
We should follow the success we’ve had in my state and expand access to our skills and apprenticeship training programs. Right now, a student can use Pell Grants to study biology but not to learn how to weld. They ought to be able to do both.
Let’s make this a campaign grounded in the issues Americans face every day. Let’s make sure that we finally fulfill the promise of a fair shot for everyone.
As Democrats, we can’t let this debate become disconnected from peoples’ everyday lives. If we do, we’ll lose this election. And it won’t be a surprise to anyone who lives outside the Washington bubble.