The effect of students’ loan debt on the Caribbean shores

BY R.D. MILLER

The announcement

Several countries around the world sometimes introduce rules and regulations that can be linked to another nation. Some may not fit all backgrounds of various cultures and traditions. Nevertheless, many developed countries share basic principles on commonly agreed-upon approaches to similar problems. For instance, the fight against drugs, crime, and environmental issues.

Although some variation may not have worked as intended, a recent proposal on February 8, 2020, according to reports, Robert Nesta Morgan, parliamentary secretary in the office of the Jamaica prime minister, announced that an incentive plan was in place or being developed to provide students an opportunity to have their debts forgiven for public service work. It is one of the best imported policy seen in a while to arrive on these shores.

Potential impact

In a previous opinion “The Brain Drain of the Caribbean Nurses,” highlighted concerns in the medical field, surrounding lack of resources, patients’ lives, staff safety, job protection, wages, and failure by leaders.  Consequently, many experienced-well-trained nurses abandon the region once they received their nursing degree to work elsewhere, but overall student loan debt was one of the major driving forces.

A few times my telephone rang from friends I have encountered while in the region which informed me that they have migrated with their family. And when I asked, “why that side of town?” the response, “my wife is working as a nurse. It is remote, one major department store that carries everything, I miss home, but it will relief her financial burden.”

Their story is one of many across the Caribbean region of residence leaving to Canada, England, the US, and even other Caribbean islands. This student loan proposal should be implemented and be adopted by other poverty-stricken and developing countries who may not at present provide this incentive.

Maybe it is beyond politics

Regardless of the political party, student loans support many people to attend college, graduate and attain a degree for a more promising long-term future and overall the nation’s economic stability.

Though the proposal marks a step in the right direction and; it is not clear on the final details how it will be funded, and that cannot be captured in a few tweets. But like other nations who participate in this program, there are requirements and commitment for individuals to be involved.

The expectation in the long-run is that it benefits all, and simply not an election talking point, seen elsewhere to generate votes-based on this platform. There were prior reports of free healthcare leading up to the past elections whereas it seems many are still waiting on bed space, and the result of the free test, but this program may provide a firm ground. After the announcement, social media responded in high numbers.

Many students on these shores will benefit from loan burdens and may change an appetite waiting to leave if an opportunity presents itself to migrate. However, it requires a genuine debate, accountability, and implementation beyond likes on social media.

Student loan debt burden reality

Evidence shows that student debt jeopardizes the financial wealth of many households and the economy in the long-run not only in the Caribbean, but in other countries.

This debt burden has also contributed to the Black-White wealth gap across the wealth distribution. Other studies have shown that about two in five households now owe student debts loans and that number is increasing.

A person with about $45,000-53,000 in educational debt can lead to a lifetime wealth loss of around $215,000. This also affects one’s retirement, long term saving, and lower home equity according to academic experts.

Student debt has surpassed $1 trillion in the US and the delinquency rate increased to over 50 percent. These studies also showed the suicide rate in the United States rose to the highest levels in more than a decade. I do not know if most of these suicides are 100 percent related, but others noted the negative impact for individuals between ages 20 and 31.

Crunching the numbers before you apply

Understanding student loans is extremely important like financial literacy in general. It informs individuals to avoid the predatory lending trap, unsolicited credit cards to investment strategies. Additionally, tracking re-payments to ensure it is forgiven on time as other programs elsewhere have been sued for denial after eligibility. But I will leave that to the local experts to continue more awareness.

Going forward school officials should be responsible and encourage students to maximize all options from scholarships, grants, and aids before taking out loans; and career counseling suitable to gain employment after graduation.

These loans can be influenced by household size, marital status, income levels, and work status; therefore, differentiating traditional loan repayments, to those that will be driven by income base will be important. Students should recognize how the symmetry will work between traditional banks and government loans, but for now, it is a key step forward if created for the correct reason.

Balancing the potential fine prints

If the private sector and local non-profit organizations later participate in collaboration with the government, it could deliver a broader beneficial impact. However, with any new important policy, it may need to make future changes and tweaks. And judging from a few social media responses, there are questions that remain to be answered.

Example: Minister of foreign affairs and foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, tweeted,“I think this is a great idea worth exploring! 50 percent or 100 percent, 5 years or 10 years; Police with forensic and cyber capacities, Nurses critical care, Teachers (esp STEM) – is this something that would be part of the bi-national commission to discuss? Or examined separately.”

I believe her conversation was extremely significant and does not alter the fact that these loans are also used for tuition, books and supplies, and ongoing expenses. One hope that this new loan forgiveness is not defined as to one’s degree, but an incentive to attract the best and the brightest and retain them. It is like a private corporation giving you a bonus stock option upfront or a reward for your work.

This application should not create other social stratification as to what jobs are more important to be considered. Attracting and retaining the right workforce will be an economic win-win for the nation. The common denominator should be civic service.

Tyrone, who make certain that your water is clean and that trash is picked up or Susie, who processes your property tax daily; or Nadine, who attended school to study agriculture; and still paying off those loans, but became unemployed when her factory closed, but she always liked cooking, and currently prepare your child school lunch at the primary school, they are in addition government workers.

Your commitment

These loan incentives were first developed by officials to compete with the private sector to attract and retain the brightest. It is more than likely that your civil service career will not make one extremely wealthy, as these public service positions often like being a law enforcement officer that is put in a position of authority.

One must be dedicated, physical and mentally fit where pride and sense of duty dictate success or failure. It is a career that helps to maintain a quality standard of living, and in the end, have a smooth retirement package (hopefully).

Finally, before you pick that academic institution to build your dream career, this is a candid conversation potential student should discuss with their families because far too often, retired parents are left to carry the burden just simply wanting to perceive their children get a chance at being successful, and one should not eliminate a good idea even if you have ideological difference with the messenger.

For one, there has been a massive increase in government spending globally, but looking in, I hope this one is beyond twitter because these youths will benefit tremendously.

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