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VP candidate Elizabeth Warren is making a lot of noise about forgiving some student loans. Mostly for households earning less than $100,000 per year.

Needless to say, this is very popular with a lot of people, mostly those with ‘__ Studies’ degrees. From the right comes rejection beyond the usual ‘a Democrat proposed it’. That is centered around the idea that many, many people took loans, and paid them, so why can’t everyone do the same. It is a decent enough argument, if you ignore the deep flaws. Some of the thinkers on the right see the flaw. Due to loans being extended to everyone who wants one, the cost of college bloated, benefiting the universities. That at the expense of the students. They propose that the colleges bear the burden of ensuring that they can justify their expense, and then cover the loans when the degree they confer is worthless.

There is something to that. Student loans are a crushing burden for most. They cover the bloated cost of school, but salaries have not increased similarly. So a degree that can get you a $50,000/year job may cost upwards of $100,000.

There is an old saying that if you want more of something, subsidize it. We have been subsidizing college for decades. And now we have more college graduates, who have paid more for their degrees, than ever before.

Holding colleges responsible for over-selling useless degrees is a good first step.

The second step is to use the ‘subsidies = more’ rule to encourage employers to drop the requirement for a degree when none is needed.

There has been a creep in degree-requirements over the past 20-some years. In 2001, I took a job doing tech support for Verizon DSL. The requirement was a high school degree. They hired people while I was there who had, literally, never used a computer before (they had to be shown how to turn them on…). When I left the job to move to Chicago in 2005, the requirement was a four-year degree plus experience. I worked as a graphic designer for Kinko’s and Alphagraphics with no college degree. I had skill. Getting a job without one proved impossible later, so I went back to college to get a degree that said I could do what I already knew how to do.

$60,000 later, I have the degree that allows me to do what I taught myself.

I didn’t learn any of the skills I use at work in college. Nothing. But without that degree, I wouldn’t be able to get the job. Why?

As we promoted college to all, employers began to use those degrees as hurdles to employment, and a means to disqualify people. In some fields, yes, you need a degree. In most, experience or provable ability should suffice. By providing tax breaks to companies who remove needless degree requirements, we can encourage hiring without the crushing debt of a degree for degree’s sake.

While I would love to have my loans wiped out, it is hard to support this action. I would support a radical change to the degree-centric culture, and the concept that if there is no degree, there is no job. My great-grandfather (great-great?) was a senior accountant at Standard Oil. He didn’t even attend high school. He just had ability.

We need to head back in that direction – ability over useless sheepskins.