Media stories have highlighted the fact that many college students are graduating with debts that equal or exceed their first year’s income. With a reported 45 million Americans with college debt, mostly of voting age, it’s sad but predictable that some candidates for the Democratic nomination for president are promising to excuse the debt.

The growing entitlement mentality creates fertile fields for harvesting votes, but excusing debt doesn’t make it go away. Other working taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

Before government began guaranteeing student loan repayment, loan experts at financial institutions determined whether students or their parents were creditworthy. The borrower’s promise and the expectation of the lender was that loans would be repaid.

When government stepped in, the issue of creditworthiness fell by the wayside. Unpaid loans became a taxpayer liability instead of a lender’s loss. Fiscal accountability went down the drain while college attendance and cost began to soar.

Things have changed since my oldest brother, Mike, and I decided to attend college. In 1946, Mike decided to become a Lutheran minister, leaving home after the eighth grade to attend a preparatory high school and college in Milwaukee before entering the seminary in St. Louis.

With no dollars available from home, he worked his way through school. When church council in our local Lutheran church voted to gift $400 to any of its sons who would enter the ministry, my Dad refused. He believed it unfair that other parishioners’ contributions should be used to fund his son’s education. Entitlement was a word my dad wouldn’t have understood.

My situation was similar when I headed for Valparaiso University in 1953. The only dollars available were those saved from jobs I had during grade school and high school plus an academic scholarship provided by a private individual.

Additional funds earned while in college were inadequate to make it through four years, so my dad solved the problem. He borrowed $5,000 from a local potato farmer with a handshake to seal the agreement. There was never a question about whether the loan would be repaid.

My job out of college as an engineer at an aircraft company paid $5,400 per year, which slightly exceeded my college debt. A year later, when I asked my future father-in-law banker for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he questioned whether that salary, with the debt, could provide the lifestyle his daughter had enjoyed.

I promised I could, and when Char and I were married in 1958, she added $2,700 to our annual income by teaching in a parochial grade school. Our goal was to pay off my college debt by 1960, and we did. My father’s promise to the farmer and my promise to Char’s dad were kept. We took commitment seriously and did what we had to do.

Nothing about the above was out of the ordinary in the 1950s, when the entitlement mentality didn’t exist. We learned at early age that we would have to work for what we wanted in life and what we borrowed would have to be repaid by us, not by someone else. This is what my father’s generation taught us, the generation uplifted in Tom Brokaw’s bestseller “The Greatest Generation.”

The lesson was simple, that we should be independent and self-sufficient and not reliant upon government for the things we want or need. President John Kennedy restated this principle in the early 1960s when he admonished Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I grieve at the theme promoted by some would-be presidential candidates that government should be the provider of free education plus other freebies, all paid for by taking more tax dollars from pockets of taxpaying Americans. I abhor the idea that youth are being told they shouldn’t have to pay back the loans they promised to repay and are being counseled that promises or commitments mean nothing.

If this theme prevails, we are destined to become a nation with even more citizens unable to stand on their own, dependent upon government and filling out forms for what they need. That’s not the America I envisioned for future generations.

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

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