Don’t craft student loan policy based on Governor O’Malley’s experience

Written by: Donald Heller

Dean’s Blog, July 22, 2015

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Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, challenging front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Among his key proposals as a candidate are to offer students in public colleges and universities “debt-free college” and for states “to immediately freeze tuition rates.”

While these may sound like good ideas to address the rising price of college, what is concerning is that Governor O’Malley has evidently crafted these proposals based on his own experience with student loans.  As The Washington Post recently wrote,

The proposition is deeply personal for O’Malley: Aides say he and his wife have already incurred $339,200 in loans to put the two eldest of their four children through universities. . . “Right now, student loan debt is holding us back — student by student, family by family, and as a nation, we have to do better,” O’Malley said during an event at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

Borrowing $339,200 for two children to obtain their bachelor’s degrees, or almost $170,000 per child, is so beyond the norm for student borrowing that it is absurd to suggest the crafting of public policy based on his own experiences.  Approximately one-third of all students completing bachelor’s degrees today have no student loan debt, and the average amount borrowed for those who do take out student loans is about $30,000.  In today’s Baltimore Sun, I explain in more detail why we should avoid crafting financial aid policy around Governor O’Malley’s experience.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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