The Joe Biden administration has announced an overhaul of the government’s public-service loan forgiveness program, which would allow tens of thousands who work for government or nonprofits to discharge their loans ahead of schedule. The new policy aims to address flaws that have prevented borrowers from receiving relief they were originally promised. The administration means well, but wide-scale debt forgiveness is the wrong way to encourage students to pursue careers in public service.
Under the existing program, which Congress created in 2007, student-loan borrowers working for the government and in other nonprofit jobs can have their debts canceled if they’ve made monthly payments for at least 10 years. More than 1 million workers are potentially eligible, but their chances of realizing its full benefits are slim. Out of roughly 725,000 applicants since 2017, only 2% have had their loans discharged. Some had made the required number of payments but were nonetheless denied because of administrative errors. Others have been penalized for enrolling in federal loan programs that aren’t covered, or for making payments a few days late.