The stock market’s been horrific. Volatility has been at record levels. Stocks are at 6, 7, and 8-month lows. The losses prompted me to stay glued to CNBC. Every morning this week, I woke one hour earlier and listened — rapt to the dancing futures and opening moments. Then, I’d be off to work, school, etc.
But this article isn’t about stock market woes. Instead, I want to focus on a CNBC guest and favorite, Mark Cuban. Cuban is an entrepreneur and billionaire (about $2.6 billion). He’s an owner of the Dallas Mavericks and serially invests in startups, businesses, and other money-making ventures. This week, he decided to speak out against the rising tide of student loan debt — something we can all agree is crushing our future economic potential.
At first, I welled with excitement and thought, “Finally, someone is going to start critiquing our financial destruction via student loans and provide sensible solutions to the $1.2 trillion debt.” Cuban exclaimed that we couldn’t continue this and that we were hurting the entire economy with this burden. But after complaining about the problem at length, he provided no solutions.
The CNBC anchors recognized this and asked him to elaborate on his answer. And that’s when I nearly soiled my pants. His big fix to this growing problem was to — ugh, it’s hard to write this — cap the federal governments tuition aid to students. More specifically, he proffered that students shouldn’t receive any more than $10,000 each year in aid.
The billionaire entrepreneur, successful businessman, and all-around sports guy said that a cap like this would force schools to reduce tuition and fees. This is when I began screaming at the TV with a rebuttal, desperate to be heard by the conservative messengers on CNBC. That didn’t work, so I took to my keyboard to muddle a rebuttal.
Unfortunately, there’s a growing movement among “experts,” pundits, and pretenders that solving the student loan crisis is as simple as cutting funding opportunities. Cut the funding and institutions will be forced to lower their costs. Economically speaking, they’re partially right. When you reduce the funding opportunities, this manipulates the “free market” for education.
With the “Cuban Plan,” the idealistic message is: cut aid funding and watch the tuition/fees crumble. With a $10,000 cap on tuition, Cuban expects institutions to follow in line. But that’s not what will happen. The reality is that the market for private loans and corporate, profit-hungry, debt-ballooning machines will take its place. Suddenly a controlled market of lenders by the federal government will be swamped and stalked by private lenders — only out to massage another percentage point (or more) out of desperate students who are eager to get educated and attempt to better themselves.
Many will be priced out of an education. The bloated budgets of higher education institutions won’t be able to simply adapt. Universities have been spending astronomical amounts on recreational centers, educational facilities, and residence halls (aka: dorms). While frivolous, the tuition and student fees are established. If they were to be reduced or cut due to federal aid money, schools may default on hefty loans to pay for these extravagances.
Cuban’s idea is a lose-lose. Schools will default, close, and/or fire massive amounts of educators. Students will be stuck with private loans to pay the gap, or be forced to relinquish their dreams of a higher education (and the future earnings potential). The only winner will be Cuban and his cronies — the 1 percent.
See, the rich will benefit because it’ll be another federal program that’s axed. And anything federal, governmental, or communally good is inherently bad among rapacious 1 percenters. Moreover, private funders such as Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America will be able to roll up their sleeves, sell some toxic loans, and collect for decades. Those holding stock in those companies could escalate their wealth — all off the backs of low income and desperate students.
What we need is government reform. What we need is debt forgiveness. What we need is a growing mass of people that believe in future generations and their education. What we need is a long view — not the myopic, shortsighted one that Cuban propagated.
He’s right about one thing: there’s a crisis brewing and we need to change our relationship with student loan debt immediately. Tuition and fees need to be cut. For-profit universities should be unable to receive federal funding whatsoever. Taxation to support higher education of public institutions needs to increase dramatically. Be it from estate taxes or net worth taxes or capital gains taxes, somebody’s got to pay for it. And we can’t keep giving the bill to future generations.
These are the people that will take care of you when you are aging. These are the people that will discover the cure to cancers. These are the people that will reduce climate change. These are the people that will pioneer ever greater technologies.
It’s time to support them and ourselves.