Biden’s Student Loan Cancellation Plan Could Worsen Military Recruitment Crisis

Biden’s Student Loan Cancellation Plan Could Worsen Military Recruitment Crisis

A plan from President Joe Biden to cancel $10,000 in student loans per borrower threatens to worsen already lackluster military recruitment.

White House officials had been weighing the move for months before officially landing on the $10,000 figure, though some Democratic lawmakers have supported eliminating debt of up to $50,000 per borrower. The debt cancellation, however, comes as every branch of the military struggles to recruit new enlistees, with the Army in particular only meeting 40% of its recruitment goal for the fiscal year as of two months ago.

Cole Lyle, the executive director of veteran advocacy group Mission Roll Call, told The Daily Wire that declines in recruitment have been driven by low unemployment in the broader economy, the botched withdrawal from the Afghanistan conflict, and perceived partisanship among military leaders, among other issues. Yet recruitment into an all-volunteer military hinges upon strong benefits that match those available from attending college.

“The experience the military gives you — a lot of people use it. Certainly most people who join the military have a sense of service, but a lot of people look at these incentives,” Lyle explained. “The GI Bill, the VA Home Loan Program, the education and training that they get in specific jobs … if you come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, having those things can rocket you into the middle class or the upper middle class.”

Ret. Lt. General Thomas Spoehr, who leads the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told The Daily Wire that the Biden administration’s loan cancellation plan takes away “another tool” from military recruiters.

“A significant portion of people come to the military after having tried college and it didn’t work out,” Spoehr commented. “That used to be a big way that people would come to the military, but with this debt forgiveness that’s likely to be dramatically reduced as a motivator to get people in the door.”

Indeed, a nonpartisan analysis from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School noted that the loan cancellation announcement could prompt students to “reorganize their financing toward additional borrowing” out of an expectation for more debt elimination in the future. Lyle, who joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school and deployed once to Afghanistan, noted that such expectations could likewise dampen recruitment efforts as more students pursue college degrees.

“If this is a one-time thing and it never happens again — I don’t know if that will have a very negative effect on military recruitment,” Lyle remarked. “But the problem is, we don’t know if it’s not going to happen again, because the precedent has now been set.”

Spoehr, who successfully oversaw troop and equipment withdrawal from Iraq during Operation New Dawn, added that military education benefits are now competing with incentives from corporate America.

“It used to be pretty rare that any kind of company would offer any employee education benefits. And that has dramatically changed to the point where Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald’s — most entry-level jobs are now offering some sort of college program,” he said. “The military has gotten mildly better while everybody else has gotten vastly better. The military was the only place that offered college benefits and now that’s no longer the case.”

Yet Spoehr suspects that the White House failed to consider the possibility of further crowding out military education benefits when discussing potential moves to cancel student debt. “These were all matters of raw politics. ‘How much can we give before we completely alienate those people that paid off their loans or didn’t go to college? What can we get away with?’ I think that was the discussion versus any kind of impact on military recruiting.”

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