We all know that going to university in this country has become expensive. Over the past three decades, adjusting for inflation, the average cost of attending a four-year institution in this country has doubled, while data indicates that the price of obtaining a university degree grew eight times faster than wages over the same period.

The result is a staggering student loan crisis that has weighed on millions of college graduates who regularly find themselves trapped in tens of thousands of dollars in debt. The average American household with student loan debt owes nearly $ 50,000, says figures released by personal finance website NerdWallet, and a total of $ 1.6 trillion in debt is yet to be repaid by about 43 million borrowers.

With the growth in tuition fees consistently outpacing that of paychecks, Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to reclaim and buy a home, raise a family, and even enjoy the benefits of a college degree. And given the popularity of higher education, this crisis will affect more and more Americans if a solution is not quickly found.

Here at the University of Michigan, we are fortunate to have great programs that enable low income people to receive a world class education regardless of their socioeconomic status. With the Go Blue Guarantee, state students admitted to the Ann Arbor campus with a family income of $ 65,000 or less can receive free tuition, while families with incomes up to $ 180,000 receive a kind of financial support.

But unfortunately, many students are not so lucky. Across the country, large numbers of students are forced to risky loans in order to obtain a university degree. Even here in Ann Arbor, many students who do not qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee are struggling. After college, graduates face the difficult task of paying off this debt.

In order to solve this crippling problem, many people have pointed out blanket student loan debt forgiveness, which would effectively write off much (or all) of the debt borrowers are still struggling to repay. And with the 2020 presidential election less than a year away, many more liberal members of the Democratic field, especially Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Have turned up. joined to us. with this plan with the aim of relieving the graduates and making the college less expensive as a whole.

While Warren says she would aim to write off or significantly reduce the debt of households with incomes below $ 250,000, according to his “Affordable Higher Education for All” proposal, Sanders says he would strive ambitiously. cancel all of the $ 1.6 trillion owed by Americans, as its public education plan stipulates. In order to raise enough money to pay off student loan debt cancellation, the two would derive income from their controversial “Wealth tax proposals ”.

At first glance, forgiving student loan debt may seem appealing. As marketed by Warren, Sanders, and others, it appears at first glance as a measure of compassion, a proposition that would help delinquent graduates who are burdened with debt. But overall, the blanket cancellation of student loans would precipitate a cascade of problems in our economic and education systems.

One of the main problems with comprehensive debt cancellation is the exorbitant cost. Like some of Warren and Sanders’ other plans, such as “Medicare-for-All,” which they voiced unwavering support, this proposal comes at an alarming price that will have a profound effect on us all. According to a report sent to his campaign, Warren’s loan forgiveness plan would cost well over $ 600 billion.

While these candidates and other politicians promise that only the rich will be taxed, it is inevitable that this cost will spill over into society and impact everyone in one way or another. One of the most notable ways for a debt cancellation program to leave its mark on society might be to widen the wealth gap, especially between white and black households. “While eliminating student debt for all households, regardless of income, increases the median net worth of young white and black households, white families see a greater advantage probably due to a higher probability. to complete college and graduate programs ”, according to research published by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy in 2015. Since people who have taken out student loans are likely already better off financially and likely have a college degree and well-paying job, loan cancellation students might actually make them even better compared to those who never attended college.

Another problem with canceling student debt is the possibility that it could erode the high quality of college education that is so common at American institutions. According to Forbes in June, debt cancellation would ensure that “no one (would) be at the mercy of the rising costs of higher education.” … ”Why would a college care so much about maintaining the standard of its programs in a responsible manner if it knew that many of its students were coming essentially for free? The blanket cancellation of loans ultimately creates a vast liability problem.

Finally, putting everything else aside, debt cancellation really sets a surprisingly bad precedent. If all graduates with student loans may one day wake up with all of their debt completely gone, what kind of model does that set for the future? In a country with a blanket student loan forgiveness, we might soon see other people burdened with debt from different sources trying to get the government to cancel their loans as well.

Ultimately, a student loan cancellation program would systematically undermine the unparalleled nature of our respected education system while directly harming our economy. It makes perfect sense to realize that instead of working to alleviate the problems arising from our broken student loan system, we really need to work on revamping that failed system itself. Ultimately, it will revolutionize our higher education system here in the United States far more than comprehensive debt forgiveness ever could.

Evan Stern can be contacted at erstern@umich.edu.