(Re)Framing Student Loan Debt as a Commons
1 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2020 Last revised: 25 Feb 2021
Date Written: September 21, 2020
Outstanding student loan indebtedness in the United States exceeds $1.67 trillion and it is projected to exceed $2 trillion by 2021 or 2022 (varying by source). The United States has decided that broad access to higher education is an important social policy, and a decision has been made to primarily lean upon student loan indebtedness to finance higher education. There is much to unpack with regard to this choice, including the sustainability of heavy reliance upon debt and the intergenerational equity of shifting debt from this generation to the next. This Essay takes one step forward in addressing that gap through the framing of the student loan debt pool as a common pool resource (CPR)—contemplating the need for cooperative management and resource allocation to avoid the inevitable “tragedy” that accompanies overuse or exhaustion of a CPR. Sustainable management of a resource is a core outcome for success in the CPR theoretical framework, and to the extent that our society exists as part of an intergenerational continuum where the future matters as much (if not more) than the present, it is imperative that higher education policy in the United States is shaped with an eye towards future needs. Or to couch this in terms of a metaphor, a bill that is due today must not be ignored and shuffled off to be paid tomorrow.
Keywords: student loan debt, student loan, fiscal commons, student loans, student borrowing, intergenerational justice, intergenerational equity, common pool resource, higher education, higher education finance, tragedy of the commons
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