COLUMN: Personal finance, trade schools missing from student loan forgiveness debate


Dan Hahn

Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Dan Hahn, Columnist

Most people can agree that college is not for everyone. So, in the debate over whether or not there should be student loan forgiveness, why are we not hearing more discussion about trade or vocational schools as a viable alternative to a traditional four-year degree?

Additionally, why are high school students not being taught basic financial literacy? 

In my mind, our society places too much emphasis on four-year degrees and not enough emphasis on personal financial concepts and trade or vocational schools.

Media outlets are spinning the debate to make it sound as if a student loan forgiveness policy rewards people who implicitly made a poor financial decision by going into debt for the purpose of their education.

All the while the policy will be shunning people who worked hard to either pay back their loans or to work extra hours to not take on any debt. 

Many people who worked tirelessly to pay for their college fail to recognize that most all other people would have likely done the same thing given identical circumstances.

The problem is that we are all victims or benefactors of our circumstances, and we are certainly not the authors of them. We do not choose our good luck, and we do not choose our bad luck.

The argument that “I paid for my school and so should you” ignores larger problems that need to be fixed. The first primary problem is that young Americans are not graduating high school literate in personal financial topics.

For example, a friend of mine was employed in the financial aid department of a for-profit college. He tells many stories of students not realizing that the loans they took out needed to be repaid.

Students with a high school degree need to be equipped with the knowledge to navigate the financial system so they do not fall victim to debt that will take a lifetime to pay off.

Also missing from the discussion is the value of trade workers in our economy. When an appliance in my house breaks, or I need to hire someone to do upgrades or repairs to my property, chances are I will hire someone who went to a trade or vocational school.

These jobs are in high demand and pay well. The Manpower Group recently published their 2023 Workforce Trends Report which states that:

“in 2022, 75% of companies reported talent shortages. To expand their talent pools, more employers are reducing or eliminating college degree requirements and instead focusing on skills acquired through prior work and life experience.”

In other words, the world is changing, and college degree requirements are becoming less important in today’s labor market. Graduates who are experiencing debilitating debt may have taken on that debt under a misconception that they need a college education in order to make a decent living.

Whatever happens with the current administration’s effort to forgive student loans, I think we need to direct conversations to be more productive and beneficial to people who are struggling, and prepare young people to make wise investments in their futures. 

Dan Hahn is an English composition/rhetoric graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.