My Uber Driver Just Doesn’t Get Student Loan Forgiveness

We can’t treat our special college-goers like run-of-the-mill deadbeats

A driver adjusting her rear view mirror

My Uber driver had on talk radio as I got into the car. They were talking about President Biden’s wonderful plan to forgive billions in student debt.

“Boy, that’s exciting stuff, isn’t it?” I marveled. “All those long-suffering borrowers are finally getting some relief.”

She looked up at me in the rearview mirror. “You think it’s a good thing, huh?” she asked.

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“Sure,” I said. “And not just me! I mean, Representative Bobby Scott says it’ll ‘be lifechanging for millions of student loan borrowers.’ AFT president Randi Weingarten says the president is determined ‘to remove the shackles of student debt’ in order ‘to improve people’s lives.’”

My driver didn’t seem to share my bliss. “They chose to take these loans, didn’t they?” she asked.

“Well, yes, but—”

“So they could go to college or get those fancy graduate degrees to make more money than us working types, right? Meanwhile, my friends who go to college are using their loans to help pay for rent, internet, smartphones, meals . . . the stuff the rest of us pay for on our own.”

“Yes, but I don’t think you quite understand—”

“Have you ever bought a car or a house?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Why?”

“I pay for this car,” she said. “I paid for community college. These people borrowed money to go to college. They promised to pay it back. Why am I supposed to pay their bills, too?”

“Look, I don’t think you quite get it,” I said. “I mean, ParentsTogether has written about Crystal Payne, who has $80,000 in student loans. Her payments take up ‘a big chunk of her paycheck.’ She says that it’s ‘disheartening’ to have to pay the bill rather than ‘things like play therapy or other enriching activities for her son.’ You see?”

“She borrowed a lot of money for college and doesn’t want to pay it back. So? Trust me, I don’t want to pay my car payment.”

“Don’t you think she deserves a break?” I asked. “She didn’t get what she wanted out of college.”

“Well, then her college can repay the loans,” she said. “They’re the ones who got the $80,000.”

“That’s not how it works,” I said. “MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has pointed out that this is really about Republicans wanting ‘banks to make more money off people who took out loans to go to college.’”

“That’s not true,” she said. “The talk radio people were just saying that the Democrats got the banks out of student lending back when Obama was president. This isn’t about banks; it’s about whether taxpayers have to pay someone else’s loans.”

“That’s not a very sophisticated take,” I said. “After all, the New York Times explains that the president’s plan ‘could help rally support among young voters.’ The people who owe this money really don’t want to pay it back. And this could help Biden beat Trump, a dangerous authoritarian who doesn’t respect the law and wants to use government to reward his friends.”

“But Biden’s ignoring the law and giving away half a trillion dollars to buy votes. Isn’t that just the sort of thing they’re warning that Trump would do? Why is it okay when Biden does it? After all, I remember hearing both Biden and Nancy Pelosi admitting the president didn’t have the power to do this—right up until Biden did it.”

“You’re missing the point,” I said. “A lot of people drop out or pay too much for a graduate degree. They feel like they got ripped off. And, heck, fewer people might go to college if they have to pay for it.”


“Well, we want people to go to college,” I said.

“Who does?”

“We do,” I said. “College makes us better citizens and better people.”

“Really? I drive a lot of different people, and I’ve never thought those who went to college are better. They’re just more impressed with themselves. From what my friends tell me, college sounds like it’s mostly about sleeping late, taking easy classes, and scrolling on phones. How is that supposed to make you a better person, anyway?”

“I just don’t think you appreciate the stress these borrowers are under,” I said.

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She looked puzzled. “Didn’t the radio say that the people who borrowed this money already got a pandemic ‘pause’? That they didn’t have to make any payments for three years?”

“Sure,” I said. “And that’s—”

“And there was zero-interest. And credit was given as if they had made payments?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “And that’s—”

“So, they already got over $200 billion in free money. Meanwhile, the rest of us still had to make our car payments and mortgage payments.”

“That’s why it’s so unfair to ask people to repay it now,” I said. “You see, they’ve gotten used to having that money to spend. They’ve spent it on clothes, vacations, and ‘play therapy.’ It’s inhumane to insist they suddenly start repaying those loans now.”

“Since I didn’t borrow $80,000 for college, maybe I’m not smart enough to understand,” she said, “but this sounds nuts. We gave these people a huge break and now, instead of saying thanks, they say that’s why we need to give them even more. What a bunch of deadbeats.”

“I don’t think you’re showing a lot of empathy,” I said.

“You know, I used to be in a bad relationship with a deadbeat,” she said. “It worked this same way. I thought I was being empathetic. But my therapist helped me see I was really being an enabler.”

We looked at each other through the rearview mirror.

“Let me ask you this,” she said finally. “If people don’t expect to repay their college loans, aren’t they likely to borrow more? And won’t colleges just go ahead and raise prices even higher? I mean, if the government was going to pay your Uber fare, you wouldn’t really care how much it cost.”

I was troubled by her callousness. I suggested she should try to be more compassionate.

“Maybe so,” she said. “But it seems like Biden’s trying to play me for a sucker. That’s not my idea of compassion.”

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

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