Student loan borrowers do not deserve ‘forgiveness’. They deserve an apology.

Are you still not convinced that the nation should seek absolution from debtors, and not the other way around? Consider the facts.

First, there’s the Free Application for Financial Aid, or FAFSA, which for decades has tied millions of students and families each year to its cumbersome form, confusing questions and confusing, and exasperating, “expected family contribution.” The new legislation reduces the number of questions from 108 to a maximum of 36, but it is also so complex that it takes years to fully implement the changes. And that does nothing to address the chasm between what the federal system (and a second, the CSS Profile, used by many private colleges) “expects” and what feels realistic for many families.

So what about Pell Grants?

They were named by Sen. Claiborne Pell in 1980, though earlier versions existed for years because it had long been clear that many colleges were not affordable for lower-income teens. But the aid those grants offer has dwindled because lawmakers didn’t set the annual amount per person to track any college cost index.

Phillip Levine, a Wellesley College economics professor and author of a new book called “A Problem of Fit: How the Complexity of Pricing Hurts Students — and Universities,” calculated how far this may leave low-income students.

Consider teens from households with about $37,000 in income, which is about the 25th percentile of income and assets. By his calculations, the public schools he examined will ask students who live on campus to pay about $14,000 each year, after accounting for Pell Grants and other grants. Even if these students reach the maximum on their federal loans ($5,500 for most freshmen) and take a job through the federal work-study program, there will still be thousands of dollars left each year to cover. Nobody cares about that gap.

As we ask these teens to borrow tens of thousands of dollars that we would never lend them for anything else, the government offers a menu of loan options. With some of this debt, the interest starts running right away, years before you can drink a legal beer.

There would not be so much of a debt problem if, as a nation, we made it a priority to subsidize public higher education. But we don’t. Among the 26 nations surveyed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, only Britain has higher average enrollment for public universities than the United States.

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