A Tale of Two Lawyers

Student loan debt forgiveness fails to address the crisis’s causes

By Tammi Fisher

Democrat leadership recently proposed up to $10,000 of student loan debt forgiveness per debtor. No-strings-attached student loan debt forgiveness is a terrible idea when considered in the context of the paths my friend and I took to obtain the same degree.

Heather and I grew up in Great Falls in middle-income households. Heather was top of her class academically, involved in sports and speech and debate. I was a consistent “B” student, and my extracurricular activities included marginally criminal behavior and working. I made it to college via intervention by my parents: they saw me making monumentally bad decisions and determined the only way to turn my life around was to move me to a new environment on a college campus. They dictated the terms of the opportunity. I would attend the University of Montana, and they would pay for one year. After that, I was on my own.

Heather went to UM too by working hard to obtain multiple scholarships, and her parents subsidized her living expenses. Yet, she still took out student loans, primarily used (by my perception) to maintain a lifestyle. She looked forward to Christmas break and Spring break for the vacations to Mexico and Jamaica; I worked extra hours to pay for school during college breaks. I graduated from college with $5,500 in student loan debt, a 3.3 GPA, and a degree in sociology. Heather graduated with $25,000 in student loans, a 4.0 GPA, and a degree in political science.

We both endeavored to attend law school; I applied to UM and was likely the last applicant admitted. Heather applied to five law schools, was accepted to all five, and chose a private and prestigious law school in Pennsylvania. Heather ranked No. 2 in her class of 200 students and received a considerable scholarship as a result; I never knew my ranking in a class of 75, but I am confident I didn’t rank higher than 50. I worked during law school (much to the Dean’s chagrin) and graduated with $48,000 in total debt. My first job paid me $42,000 a year. I paid off my student loans in four years. Heather graduated with $100,000 in student loan debt, her first job paid her $110,000 a year, and 20 years later she is still paying on her student loan debt.

Should Heather’s remaining student loan balance be forgiven? We both have good lives and earn a good wage. We were blessed with equality of educational opportunity; student loan debt forgiveness attempts to provide equality of outcome but does not account for our individual choices and sacrifices. Student loan debt forgiveness fails to address the crisis’s causes: skyrocketing tuition subsidized without parameters by high-interest government-backed loans, junk degrees with limited employment opportunities, and financially illiterate debtors.

Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.

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