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The Importance of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Parker Riggs
September 26, 2017

Choosing to continue my college years after receiving my Bachelors in Political Science was an easy choice. I knew if I wanted to work in a leadership capacity, in any area of government, I would need to get my MPA. Explaining to people that your career goal is to become a bureaucrat usually leaves many of them scratching their heads. They don’t understand it is an important part of society, even more so when you work for the local government. So, for me the choice was easy. Being a public servant would allow me to give back to my city or the state that has given me so much. The only obstacle in my way was the cost of continuing my education. Education is not cheap and tuition rates across the country continue to rise every year. For many students like myself, the only way to cover the costs is by taking out student loans.

Working in the public sector has many benefits, but one of them is not high paying salaries. Many graduates would rather skip the benefits in the hopes of landing a job with a larger salary in the private sector. So, to try in bring those students in the public sector the federal government started the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This program would forgive any loans after ten years of on-time payments by individuals who worked in the public sector or for non-profits. This is a plus for the public sector. Student loan debt is a problem for a large percentage of students in and out of college. Knowing you can work a decent job with benefits in the public sector all the while getting all of your student loans forgiven in ten years only benefits the country.

While in my opinion this program is a benefit to the country, others see it as a monster that has grown out of control. The cost of the program has skyrocketed over the years as more people get into the program. Newly graduated lawyers and doctors are taking the path of loan forgiveness by working for the public, rather than spending most of the money they will be earning in the private sector on loan payments. With a large number of individuals in the program with student loan debts in the hundred-thousand-dollar range or higher, it is easy to see why many fiscal conservatives may be looking for a way to scrap the program, before a large number of participants come looking for loan forgiveness.

Though the program benefits the public by luring some of the best and brightest away from the private sector into the public sector, it is also fixing a problem in the public sector that is years in the making. pileofmoneymagglassThe problem is the lack of young individuals in government jobs. The public sector is coming to a turning point. In the next decade, a large number of the baby boomers in top leadership positions in the government will be eligible for retirement and they will soon be followed by those underneath them in the assistant and director positions. The percentage of the workforce 55 years or older is over or near 40 percent in all 50 states. Loan forgiveness for public service will only help to fill these positions left open by retirements.

Scraping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program should not be seen as being fiscally responsible. It should be seen as another failure of us for not seeing the big picture. Government at all levels is important. What happens when the older generation steps down and there is no one from the younger generation to step up? We will have to confront this question in the coming years. If the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is taken out of the budget, then we will see the public sector suffer because of it. Young graduates will choose high-paying jobs while they will continue to pay the interest rates on their student loans. While this may only seem like a problem that affects the public sector, in reality, a problem affects the economy as well. Students who do not have a chance at student loan forgiveness will have no choice but to put more money into their payments, which will only leave less money for them to spend on other activities. We live in a consumer based economy. In order for it to grow, we need people to continue to spend money, but it is hard to do that when all your money is tied up in loan repayments. Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a public policy where the positive externalities outweigh the negatives.

Author: Parker Riggs. Future Public Servant, Second Year MPA Student at Augusta University. [email protected]

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