The student loan burden on college grads has grown in recent years to the extent that many are forced to put off home purchases or starting a family. That’s why loan forgiveness programs have been successful in getting health care professionals, teachers and social service workers to locate in underserved areas.

But those successes will be a thing of the past if recent trends continue. A Chronicle report published July 21 told of the rejection of 99% of applicants for loan forgiveness through a bipartisan program enacted by Congress in 2007 to erase debt for those who work at public service careers for 10 years. Despite meticulous adherence to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program requirements, millions are being rejected on loopholes and technicalities.

The program was created with support of then-President George W. Bush and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. But the rightward ideological shift of the Trump administration appears to have undermined that bipartisan spirit. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos expressed her disdain for the program in a congressional hearing saying, “We don’t think one type of job, one type of role should be incentivized over another.”

This is about a whole lot more than government spending priorities. It’s about life plans made on the basis of promises made and then broken. It’s about the credibility of commitments made by the federal government and, by extension, all government loan forgiveness programs, including those offered by the states.

If potential participants lose faith that their loans will actually be forgiven, what’s to motivate teachers, nurses and social service providers to work in communities where they’re desperately needed? The real losers on this issue could end up being Montanans who live in small remote towns.

Republicans and Democrats need to get together and force the Department of Education to fulfill its obligations to the millions of Americans who have participated in this program on the promise their loans would be forgiven.

If there is the political will to change or eliminate the program going forward, then so be it. But commitments already made must be honored.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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