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'A Burning Indictment of Our Higher Ed System': Commencement Speaker Pays Off $40 Million in Student Debt

'A Burning Indictment of Our Higher Ed System': Commencement Speaker Pays Off $40 Million in Student Debt

Jessica Corbett, staff writer

Commencement speaker Robert F. Smith garnered widespread praise Sunday when the billionaire investor announced he was wiping out an estimated $40 million in student debt for Morehouse College's nearly 400 graduating seniors—but the move also sparked intense criticism of the cost of higher education in the United States.


Totally a Class act, Mr. Smith. I particularly like your challenge to the alumni to do their share. The bigger narrative in this country still remains as higher “education” (training) costs accelerate beyond all reasonable measures, but you, sir, rock. To the Morehouose Class of 2019 I simply say please remember to pay it forward however you can best do so. It is nice to see leadership via sharing from one who sees the world as connected.


What I take from this act is this: Imagine what ALL those billionaires out there could do with this sort of heart and generosity. There could be homes for the homeless; roads without potholes; bridges safe from collapsing; a national train system; add your own here _____.

I applaud this man and also want to point out that the $40 million is NOTHING compared to what he still has in his pocket after this act of generosity and kindness. I say that not to demean him in any way. Just to shine a spotlight on what numbers beyond most of us can picture can do do.

I hear that Jeff Bezos will do the same soon and…


Thank you Dr. Robert Smith. Now if other plutocrats can follow suit and make similar donations to the other 5300 colleges and universities around the US, and continue to do so, each year, then, perhaps we can begin to address debt peonage and crack the caste system that exists in the US.


Wish there were similar minded Native American plutocrats. I’ve been trying to support young First Nations student interested in higher ed. On top of state and federal agencies refusal to officially recognize First Nations, a lack of scholarship opportunities, and discriminatory lending practices, there are some pretty extremely racist attitudes folk in the US have towards indigenous peoples here.


" 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchom, racked up $200,000 in loans"
“per his calculations, it worked out to 25 years at half his monthly salary”

Yeah, the system is screwed up. 200k at 7% for 25 years is just below 1500/mth. twice that, Mr. Mitchom’s salary, would be 3000/mth is $36k per year. No degree that pays only $36k per year for 25 years should be worth 200k.

My best guess is Mr. Mitchom forgot to account for salary increases. Also, a quick look at finance major entry level pay shows $60k/yr so he might be able to pay it off earlier.

First, Mr. Smith’s act of generosity is to be commended. However, I don’t understand why students should have to depend on the kindness of a philanthropist to get free of a debt acquired while getting an education. Isn’t there something wrong with a system that allows predatory lending to educate our citizens? Education at public institutions should be free and, for private schools such as Moorehouse, there should be special loans with very low rates of interest. Remember the banks that loan the money have been paying interest on money from the Fed at near zero, due to quantitative easing. Further, student loans cannot be eliminated in a bankruptcy. This is wrong.


Everyone is missing the true solution to the problem, one that was briefly touched on by one speaker at the economic summit in Davos, Switzerland earlier in the year, but ignored and suppressed by corporate media. The solution is not generous private charity by the 0.01%. The solution is to tax their a$$es out of existance and use the proceeds to pay for things like public univeristy education for all as a right. In other words, thank you for your generousity, but really, just pay your damn fair share of taxes and we will all be better off.


The true villain of the piece though is the colleges themselves.

Over the last 50 years, colleges have raised tuition at more than 2x the rate of inflation, and more than 8x the rate at which wages have gone up because they know people are more than willing to go into debt to buy an education.

By the same token, the number of administrators has more than doubled growing more than 2x the rate of increase in students.

Add on the insane amounts that go to college sports, and you have a system that is perfectly happy to milk students for every penny.


I’ll add even more:

  • Reduction of Professors - replaced by adjuncts

  • Underfunding of Divisions - reliance on ‘donations’ for divisions within the college

  • Lack of Oversight in Education - teachers and degrees that are laughable

I earned my A.S. at a community college then went to a four year state college for my B.S. (both in computer science). The community college education was superior to the education I received at Fresno State (sorry guys, but your C.S. department was horrible at that time). I even took the opportunity to speak my mind about the sorry state of the department when the college hired a new chancellor and he invited our comments. I laid it all out. One thing that absolutely floored me: The computer science students did NOT have a computer lab. There was one somewhat dingy classroom with some computers in it that were not cleaned at all and was used for classes, but we did not have a separate lab for students to meet and do our work. By comparison, the engineering department had three separate computer labs based on engineering specialty. We had none. We were all forced to lug around laptops and sit them on our laps or on top of desks that were made for kindergarten classrooms in order to do our work and studies.

The tuition at UC - Fresno was one of the more affordable in the state, yet we still paid over $30,000 for tuition alone (of course, there was still books, materials, laptops, transportation, etc.) You’d think we would be allowed to at least have a place to study our major at the college. The new football coach was a millionaire though!


“South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has stood out among the pack of Democratic hopefuls by opposing the idea of “free” college tuition.”

I suppose the billionaires and multi-billionaires could make millionaires out of all adults in America and do tax payer spending as well. One reason they don’t, is because that wealth would be gone, and we don’t know how the greedy would take advantage, and we have no idea how that wealth would be handed down, if at all. That whole generation of wealth could be squandered. Then what?

I just was pointing out that GREED could be altered into a positive by SHARING some of the UN-NEEDED wealth.

Are we ever going to be able to get inside the head of the “Too rich to fail” caste?
It seems that if and when we climb out of the hole of poverty we move right into greed mode. Minor greed is survival, but unchained wealth, as you say, needs a different standard than what we have now.


I guess I define “greed” differently than you. To me greed is the lust for more and more and more no matter the cost to others with no end to that lust for MORE. I don’t think that trying to survive has anything to do with greed.

“Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” -Honore de Balzac