When the American billionaire Robert Smith announced to students graduating from historically black Morehouse College that he would pay off their student loans, he put himself at the centre of one of the 2020 US election’s key issues.
While the cost of Smith’s surprise gift announced on Saturday to Morehouse’s 396-strong class of 2019 is not yet known, the body’s student debt is thought to reach $40 million.
Smith, a Texas businessman who is the wealthiest African-American, has been applauded for his generosity, but his gift also generated jealousy among the many Americans struggling with huge student debts.
“Can a billionaire pledge to pay off my student loan debt? I’m glad for the graduating class, but also envious,” one Twitter user wrote, reflecting a sentiment common on social media.
Already, several Democratic challengers to President Donald Trump in next year’s elections have proposed ways to reduce the nearly $1.5 trillion American student loan burden, and even politicians who aren’t running have weighed in.
“People shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation, to begin with,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising Democratic House representative who was elected last year in part on the promise of free university education.
– Mobilized billionaires –
More than two-thirds of American graduates were in debt in 2016, the Institute for College Access and Success said in April, with their burden averaging $29,650.
Paying off the debt often weighs heavily on young Americans’ lives through their 20s and 30s, delaying the starting of families and the purchase of cars and homes.