In What Universe Is This Fair?: The College Debt Forgiveness Question Gets Personal


After my dad left us, my mom worked three part-time jobs. I helped by raising my two younger brothers and then earned money babysitting. We all helped mom when she started her own housecleaning service.

When I turned 16, I got a six-hour job after school. There was no question of going to college. Although I was smart, my high school grades suffered because I worked.

When I was 18, I landed a full-time job, and my years of knowing how to work hard paid off. I climbed the ranks in my company. When the pandemic hit, I was one of the lucky ones. Although my company furloughed me, I knew how to work. Between Door Dash and Uber, I made enough money to pay rent, buy food and anything else I needed, and help my mom.

I then got a new job in a larger company where I’ve worked for a year. Last month, a promotional opportunity opened, and I applied for it. The company chose “Wes” instead. My coworker friends told me, “You deserved that promotion. Wes doesn’t work half as hard as you.”

I asked my manager who couldn’t give me a solid reason why management chose Wes and not me. I thought the answer might be sex discrimination.

I went to HR and filed a complaint. The HR officer read my grievance, and assured me the selection wasn’t discriminatory, but that all managers in the company needed a college degree. Wes had one. I didn’t.

Fast forward to the government’s decision to “forgive” ten to twenty thousand dollars in student loans. I’m one of those taxpayers who pay for this. So, Wes gets my promotion and I pay part of his college debt. I’ve already heard through the grapevine that Wes doesn’t plan to make any loan repayments because he thinks the rest of his loan might be “forgiven” after the new year.

This rips me. My tax money helps pay for Wes’s degree, but his degree gives him an advantage over me. Aren’t there other needs more deserving of government money than college graduates?

In what universe is this fair?


The core answer to your questions is politics.

In a career and HR sense, however, you have two other answers.


You have a solid work ethic and ambition. Another employer would be lucky to get you. As yesterday’s post documents, many companies now regard alternate credential and work experience as important as college degrees. Find one and vote with your feet. If you want, explain why your current employer lost you when you’re exit interviewed.


The employer’s policy may eventually be challenged. A policy that’s neutral on its face but has the unintended consequence of discriminating against categories of employees may be legally challenged. Minority young people are not as likely as Caucasian young people to attend four-year colleges. It’s potential your employer will consider this, particularly if it wants to diversify its employee ranks.

Finally, if what you’ve said about Wes is true, your soon-to-be former employer made the wrong choice.  

8 thoughts on “In What Universe Is This Fair?: The College Debt Forgiveness Question Gets Personal

  1. First of all, we (hopefully) learn early in life that life is not fair. That said, one can hope the stated fact does not sour an individual to the extent it impedes their career and ruins their life. Besides receiving the GI Bill (about $130 a month), I worked summers, and after classes during my first 3 years of college. My last year, I worked full time in a factory and attended night classes. The majority of my friends worked their way through college and didn’t have the help of the GI Bill.

    I haven’t seen most of them in 50 years, but I am relatively certain they are unhappy with this vote buying scheme. The ones I have been in contact with dutifully paid off their loans. Students heavily in debt will vote democrat hoping that next year their debt will be forgiven; their parents, not wanting their children burdened with debt will vote accordingly.

    1. Well outlined. I see this strictly as a ‘vote buying scheme’ to appeal to the class of people who will sucker, er, get sucked in by the deal.
      While it is the ‘working population’ that will ultimately pay for this irresponsible debacle, most of them will not realize that – to whatever small part – they will ultimately be paying part of that bill also.

      Those of us who have worked all of our lives to get to where we are, and who have paid off the debts they amassed to get there (I paid for my advanced education – in time, lost work hours, class fees and books) will mostly gripe about the situation. But, it will be the rest of them – as you noted – that will support the vote purchase to get themselves out of their poorly planned and hardly earned situation.

  2. Lynn, solid answer, but I think you may have been been sucked in to a trolling question. It all sounds much too contrived designed to elicit some reaction condemning the loan forgiveness action. Your answer steered clear of that bait, but I think it may have still be giving air time to fictional situation designed to fan frustration rather than focus on the problems with the cost of post secondary education and the plight of students sucked in to predatory loan programs.

    I presume what’s been alleged is not impossible to have happened, but improbably in this day and age, if the job is truly one that doesn’t have a legitimate educational and licensing foundation (engineer, CPA, health care etc.)

    In the end, if the management team made the sort sighted decision to hire for credentials over merit, regardless of the credentials; then I agree you are on the right track of suggesting someone should be thankful they are not elevated to be a part of that management team and look for new opportunities for growth.

    1. Hi, Ky, I’m hearing from a lot of folks with political concerns about why college debts are being forgiven. Here’s why I don’t think this was a masquerade question–I’ve heard for years from folks who resent losing out on promotions, despite their hard work, because of the lack of a degree. The question also came as a call, and I asked enough questions to decipher the caller’s legitimacy, because I don’t want to “get political” in the blog. What you’ve raised is a concern and is partially why I wrote yesterday’s post, about the value of alternative credentials.

  3. Wow. Yes, in what universe is this fair. There are great responses and potential steps to take here, and it’s too bad that such a deserving, achieving, otherwise super well qualified employee even need to think about taking them. This is what happens when policy trumps sense and competing lines of evidence.

  4. This isn’t about fair, it’s about improving the economy over how much money, mobility and motility is being drained out of this economy by student loan repayments that are literally impossible to ever finish.
    The truly criminal act isn’t now, it was when we decided that 18 is too young to drink but old enough to go into debt for the rest of your life and with unreal payment rates. Plus the literally criminal behavior of for-profit schools that tricked ALSO hard working people into school debt and kicked them out just as fast.
    And the 3rd point is that all of this outrage just feeds to the fact that it’s corporate America’s desire to have a random metric that they can put their finger on for hiring/promoting having a degree that is to blame for your problem, not the tiny amount of student loan forgiveness that this really is. But that is changing in the better companies.
    Yes. I took out student loans to get through college and I worked and paid them off and I don’t resent the relief this brings. We (as Americans) Are already paying for the debt relief of so many companies I can’t see how it’s worse that this is an individual basis instead of a corporate profit making basis.

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