Forget Student Loan Cancellation, Make College 3 Years Instead


If you really want to help student loan borrowers with student loans, it’s time to consider this.

Here’s what you need to know.

Student Loans

Whether you support or oppose wide-scale student loan cancellation, there are some undeniable facts about higher education:

  • The cost of college is expensive;
  • Tuition continues to rise;
  • Students will continue to borrow student loans; and
  • Overall student loan debt will continue to grow.

While some states offer heavily subsidized public colleges and univerities, it’s not uncommon for some private colleges to have annual tuition of $50,000 or higher. Democrats in Congress have focused on cancelling student loan debt as a major solution, and want President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 of student loans. To date, the latest update on student loan cancellation is that wide-scale student loan forgiveness is looking less promising.

  • One-time student loan cancellation: However, this proposal is for one-time student loan cancellation and doesn’t address the underlying problem of the cost of college.
  • Benefits existing student loan borrowers only: If there is any student loan cancellation, it would only benefit existing student loan borrowers. The day after student loan cancellation, for example, students will keep borrowing student loans and they won’t get any student loan relief.
  • Only for federal student loans: Any student loan cancellation likely would be for federal student loans, so student loan borrowers with private student loans would still have student loan debt

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Student loan cancellation isn’t the only answer

If legislators really want to address growing student loan debt, they need to consider a bipartisan solution that doesn’t heavily burden taxpayers. This is not to say that Democrats in Congress haven’t explored different proposals to cancel student loans. For example, Democrats proposed to forgive student loans with four changes. If Congress or Biden cancels up to $50,000 of student loans, it could wipe out student loan debt for 36 million student loan borrowers. At the same time, student loan cancellation could cost taxpayers up to $1 trillion. Republicans in Congress won’t support student loan cancellation, and many moderate Democrats won’t either. There are at least 5 signs Biden won’t enact student loan cancellation either. Remember this: student loans are important to address, but student loans aren’t the product students are purchasing. They’re the mechanism to finance education. If there wasn’t high tuition, student loan borrowers wouldn’t have to borrow as much student loan debt. That’s why Democrats and Republicans in Congress instead should focus on working with colleges and universities to reimagine higher education.

Make college three years long

One potential bipartisan solution is to make college three years rather than four years. Consider it a better way to “cancel student loans.” This won’t happen through legislative action—Congress isn’t going to compel colleges and universities to enact this change. This proposal is meant for a wider discussion among the president, legislators, governors, mayors, educators, students, administrators, employers and other stakeholders. Will this solve the cost of higher education or make student loans disappear? No. However, it’s worth exploring as one potential solution, among many, that won’t directly burden taxpayers and won’t alienate people who no longer have student loans or who didn’t go to college (which is approximately 80% of adult Americans).

The argument is simple: three years of college means three years of student loans. Student loan borrowers wouldn’t be burdened with an extra year of student loan debt. They could begin working a year earlier and earn income. They could start student loan repayment a year earlier. They could start saving earlier for retirement, start a business and start a family. It’s a softer approach than “free college” or “cancel all student loans,” which currently is a tougher sell in Congress.

Colleges and universities would lose one year of revenue, which for some colleges and universities may be untenable. Again, three-year college wouldn’t be mandatory or legally enforced; it would be optional. Colleges and universities could offer three years of college or keep the existing four-year college program. For those colleges and universities that offer a three-year college degree, federal and state governments could consider various financial incentives. The curriculum may need to be redesigned to allow students to complete their academic requirements in a shorter timeframe without sacrificing academic rigor, but most students would likely welcome the opportunity if it meant borrowing less student loan debt.

Three year college won’t solve the cost of higher education or eliminate student loans. However, it’s a first step that should be considered as America seeks to make higher education more affordable and more accessible.

If you have student loans, make sure you know your next steps for student loan repayment. Consider these potential options, all of which have no fees:

  • Student loan refinancing 
  • Income-driven repayment plans 
  • Public service loan forgiveness 

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