GUEST COLUMN: Solving the student debt crisis, American polarization | Opinion

President Joe Biden’s JFK moment has arrived. Sixty-one years ago, JFK inspired a generation of Americans to improve the country and the world by challenging them to “ask themselves what they can do for their country.” Biden can change the trajectory of the nation with his call for service in exchange for student debt relief. A US Service Loan Forgiveness Act is the innovative, bipartisan way to reinvest in America’s human infrastructure.

Sean McCabe and Rahul Gupta had very different childhoods. Sean grew up in the comfortable upper middle class of Denver. Rahul, the son of recent Indian immigrants, grew up in Chicago’s poorest neighborhood. Both graduated from college, had student debt, but wanted to give back. Rahul joined Teach for America in the California Bay Area and Sean joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Washington, DC. Both had life-changing experiences in getting to really know their fellow Americans on a personal level. Teaching, interacting, and living with Americans of different races, colors, religions, political beliefs, and socioeconomic circumstances has instilled empathy, love, and respect for those who are different from them. Sean and Rahul benefited from their respective program’s loan forbearance and student debt deferral. These options fall well short of a properly rewarding service. Adding federal debt relief for those who serve in these excellent service organizations is essential.

Sam Adaiyo was a new lieutenant I met at a forward operating base in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Sam was from south Chicago. As a second-generation American with a father in prison and a mother in rehab, he worked multiple jobs and raised his younger brother. Determined to get an education and break out of the rotating prison trap some family members found themselves in, Sam earned a four-year Army ROTC scholarship to college. His studies paid off, at age 23 he got engaged and bought his first house just before our deployment. Sam leveraged an ROTC scholarship to pursue the American dream and serve his country.

The enactment of a US Service Loan Forgiveness Act will alleviate $1.75 trillion in student debt reported by the federally held Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The programs and mechanisms exist – ROTC, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are famous examples of tuition assistance in exchange for services. More innovations such as part-time or weekend service options should be made available. The recent streamlining of the Civil Service Loan Cancellation Program is a start. Service options need to be expanded.

The 2020 National Commission on the Military, National, and Public Service highlighted “elevating all forms of service” as a critical step for America’s future success.

The commission recommended “advancing military, national and public service by expanding incentives for national service through institutions of higher learning.” Congress should create a large-scale service system for debt relief in which debt holders use an application linked to government agencies and approved private service organizations, all organized for their nuanced skills and desires. professionals.

These student debt holders promise their service: full-time, part-time, quarterly, monthly, etc. in exchange for a required amount of debt relief. Employed workers could work one weekend a month or more, pending availability in the service organization of their choice.

There is something for everyone: military, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps: Clean Energy Corps, Education Corps, Healthy Futures Corps, Veterans Service Corps and Opportunity Corps. Adding bona fide service organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, Red Cross/Red Crescent, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and similar organizations would open the program open.

Critics will argue that relief and service obligations will apply disproportionately to underserved communities because student debt disproportionately affects them. Similar to income-based repayment options, the federal government, which owns 92% of student debt, can creatively target specific levels of debt holders to mitigate this potential gap.

The return on investment of debt cancellation service for a generation of college graduates far exceeds general cancellation. Participating service organizations recruit talented workers who bring new skills and innovation to new problems. Debt holders receive debt relief, new skills, service satisfaction, and new life skills. While moving America forward. Democrats reach for broad-based debt relief, while Republicans reach for a more powerful repayment mechanism. Both sides should act on the commission’s recommendations and set the bar for global competition, starting with strengthening the connective tissue between Americans at home. We need more Sams, Rahuls and Seans. They are the vital next generation of American leaders forged in a culture of service before self. This is a generation I want my children to grow up with.

Brian Slamkowski is an Army major and GEN Wayne Downing Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies. A graduate of Air Academy High School, Brian grew up in Colorado Springs. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Department of the Army or the United States Department of Defense.

Brian Slamkowski is a Major in the United States Army and currently a GEN Wayne Downing Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies. A 2006 Air Academy HS graduate, Brian grew up in Colorado Springs. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Department of the Army or the United States Department of Defense.

Robert P. Matthews