What actually happens when you talk to students about Bernie's student debt payoff scheme

What actually happens when you talk to students about Bernie's student debt payoff scheme
© Greg Nash

There is a common misconception that millennials and gen Z’ers are an all-but-locked-up demographic for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (I-Vt.) or — at least until she drops out — Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden to tap Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB, Gensler for SEC chair: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Porter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector MORE (D-Mass.), thanks to the two candidates’ promise to cancel all student debt. Yet after a long discussion in my own college political science class, I can assure you that the majority of students no longer feel the burn.

It turns out, American college students, especially New Yorkers, are pretty good at cutting through the rainbows and unicorn dust of Bernie & Co. Just talk to them for yourself if you don’t believe me.

I teach at the College of Staten Island, part of CUNY, one of the largest public universities in America. At CUNY, we gladly teach a diverse student body, mostly students of color. We have middle class and low income students, homeless, recent immigrants, and disabled. We have a lot of liberals and a few conservatives sprinkled here and there. All are using an education as a means of bettering themselves and their families. We are proud!


Teaching politics in a presidential year is fantastic. Everyone has an opinion. So when I asked “Who supports the Sanders plan to cancel student debt?” I wasn’t surprised when nearly every hand was raised. After all, who would deny manna from heaven?

But then we got into the substance. My section is a night class; nearly all my students work either part or full time. Their degree paths are clear shots at better jobs; their education isn’t an exercise, and they are keenly aware how much already gets taken by the government. What did they think of Bernie’s plan to pay for his $2.2 trillion estimated cost?

They were smart enough to realize that the Vermont senator’s “Speculation Tax” will cripple the stock and bond markets, affect their savings, sink their parents’ retirement and pension funds, and — for some — punish their own children’s college funds. They understood that “making public colleges free” will directly raise their local, state and federal taxes. They know they will pay for it.

Again, these are students who attend a moderately priced university, in most cases by choice, to save money. They know they are doing the right thing. Did they want to pay for the “frat bro” who gets gentleman’s c’s at a high-priced party school down South and whose family connections will score him a job that pays a higher salary than them? Heck no!

Did they want to pay for the upper middle class smartest-guy-in-the-room — so smart, in fact, he doesn’t have a job years after graduation from a costly New England liberal arts college? No!


Would they support paying the tab for someone who spent $70,000 a year for a B.A. in Mesopotamian Rhythmic Dance? Of course not! I may have taken some easy electives in sailing and fly fishing at Marist College, but I don’t think my students should pay for it.

How about the young lady who racks up the student debt, spending multiple semesters abroad? You know her, the one who haunts her friends with her faux-Catalan pronunciation of Valencia. Should my students, who do not even qualify for a free metrocard if they take a class in Brooklyn, pay for her intensely immersive vacation? No.

Even if Bernie’s intentions are well meaning, is his debt cancelation policy moral? Is he taking from savers to give to squanderers? Must we all bear the cost of decisions, some good and some bad, made by consenting adults? These were all real questions for my City University students.

By the end of class, a mere two or three out of the original 40 still liked the idea, but at least they were now all informed.

Republicans and moderate Democrats must continue to burst the bubble of Bernie’s socialism at every opportunity, especially to young voters.

Joseph Borelli is the minority whip of the New York City Council, a spokesman for the N.Y. State GOP and state co-Chairman of Trump 2020. He's also a Republican commentator, professor and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance. He has been published in the NY Daily News, Washington Examiner, and appears on Fox News, Fox Business, BBC, CNN and HLN. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC.