Periodically, I engage in a purging process that ends up turning into a retrospective of sorts. Old receipts, credit card statements, and bank statements often take me back to events and experiences from years past. Recently, I set out to purge a collection of documents I had been holding on to since the ‘90s. There was nothing particularly special about these documents, at least not sentimentally. But they were peppered with personal information. Account numbers. Driver’s license number. Social security number. These papers were an identity thief’s dream. So, for years, I have been lugging them around every time I move, all in an attempt to avoid the tedious task of shredding them. The other day, however, I resolved to rid myself of these relics, and I cranked up the shredder and got to work!
As I progressed, I all too frequently stopped to reminisce about the times in which I came into possession of a particular document. I was reminded of my frequent willingness to take ill-planned road trips in college. I was tickled to realize that in all these years, some things had not changed, particularly my affection for fast food. But the clearest narrative came from an unlikely source—the copious amount of college financial aid documents I had kept. These were the primary offenders in terms of displaying my personal information; but seeing the documents again brought on a sense of accomplishment and, more significantly, thankfulness. These were not only records of my successful passage through undergrad and law school, they were also reminders of the immense opportunities federal student loans have afforded me.
When Congress enacted the first federal student loan program in 1958, the goal was to increase access to higher education. Shifting attitudes towards education and its potential for curing societal ills, such as racial inequality and poverty, instigated the federal government’s role in college financial aid. As such, the original program was need-based, with very low interest rates. Since then, the federal student loan program has grown in prominence—and of course size. And while the loans are no longer strictly need-based and the interest rates have crept upward, education access remains the underlying purpose of the program.