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‘A burning indictment of our higher ed system’: Commencement speaker pays off $40 million in student debt — but there’s a bigger story

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Billionaire’s gift to nearly 400 graduating seniors of Morehouse College earned him praise—but also sparked criticism of the cost of education

Commencement speaker Robert F. Smith garnered widespread praise Sunday when the billionaire investor announced he will wipe out an estimated $40 million in student debt for Morehouse College’s nearly 400 graduating seniors—but the move also sparked intense criticism of the cost of higher education in the United States.

“People shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation to begin with.”
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

“Two things are simultaneously true about this story: 1. This is a very cool thing to do,” tweetedCurrent Affairs editor Sparky Abraham. “2. That this is so cool and necessary and has such a huge impact on the students’ lives is a burning indictment of our higher ed system.”

“The Morehouse graduating class has $40 million in student debt,” he continued. “That is an enormous tragedy.”

Smith’s announcement Sunday at the all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia provoked impassioned calls for both making higher education free across the country and canceling student debt.

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Abraham, in a piece for Current Affairs last month, argued: “Free college is the efficient, non-stigmatizing way to open up college access for everyone without the burdens of means-testing. It doesn’t have to be regressive and, with any luck, it will follow the path of free high school: In short order it will be nearly universally accepted as a public good and a huge boon to everyone, especially those from poorer and working class backgrounds.”

Responding to Smith’s donation on Sunday, Waleed Shahid of Justice Democrats tweeted, “Taxing billionaires and Wall Street would allow every American to go to college for free while also canceling almost all student debt.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) suggested in a series of tweets that this could serve as a “natural experiment” to demonstrate how lack of student debt impacts graduates’ lives.

“It’s important to note that people shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation to begin with (aka college should be affordable),” the congresswoman added.

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“I’ve been teaching [at] Morehouse for 3 years now and I see firsthand the burden of costs for an education has on black folks,” David Dennis Jr., a writer and adjunct professor of journalism at the college, said in a series of tweets. “Getting rid of their student loan debt is going to literally change the lives of every single graduate. Incredible.”

Dennis also called attention to the banks and predatory lenders that will receive the estimated $40 million:

One graduating Morehouse student interviewed by The Associated Press, 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchom, racked up $200,000 in loans, which eight of his family members co-signed so he could make it through four years of schooling.

Mitchom said that prior to Smith’s announcement, he used a spreadsheet to figure how long it would take to pay off his debt—per his calculations, it worked out to 25 years at half his monthly salary.

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Describing his reaction at the ceremony on Sunday, Mitchom told the AP: “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

Linking to the AP report that features Mitchom, New York Times writer Astead Herndon tweeted, “Yes, the Morehouse story is a beautiful moment provided by an unequal system.”

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Trump’s ‘no collusion’ lie is finally falling apart — but will Americans actually notice?

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Although the Mueller Report has been in the public domain for nearly two months, there’s still a ton of confusion and disinformation around it. The confusion is specifically due to two things: Very few voters have actually read it, and Donald Trump is delighted to exploit that fact. It doesn’t help that Robert Mueller has been more than a little cryptic about his findings — refusing to answer questions or to appear for congressional testimony to clear the air.

Consequently, the president and his Red Hat loyalists continue to repeat the “NO COLLUSION!' lie with very little push-back. The all-caps falsehood gains momentum every time Trump repeats it. Likewise, Bill Barr’s March 24 letter and his subsequent public remarks erroneously confirmed Trump’s lie before anyone, including Congress, was allowed to actually read the report.

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Trump calls himself a rock star as he tries to drum up interest in his Orlando rally: ‘Going to be wild!’

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President Donald Trump compared himself to a rock star ahead of his campaign kickoff rally in Orlando, where hundreds of supporters camped out a day ahead of the Florida event.

Supporters waited in line more than 40 hours before Tuesday night's rally at the Amway Center, and the president claimed that showed he was as popular as musicians who pack arenas for rock concerts.

"The Fake News doesn’t report it," Trump tweeted, "but Republican enthusiasm is at an all time high. Look what is going on in Orlando, Florida, right now! People have never seen anything like it (unless you play a guitar). Going to be wild - See you later!"

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MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Mika hilariously taunt Trump over lousy ratings for his ABC interview: He didn’t even beat ‘Family Feud’

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President Donald Trump sees his poll numbers as the same thing as television ratings, according to panelists on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Host Joe Scarborough and others shared anecdotes showing the president's obsession with poll numbers and TV ratings, and his compulsion to push back when those popularity metrics are challenged.

"You have to to think back to that period you just described, 2015-2016, when reporters would go up to the 26th floor of Trump Tower," said Washington Post reporter Robert Costa. "President Trump would have all these framed ratings from 'The Apprentice' in picture frames on the wall. He would use the phrase ratings, and he would interchange it with the discussion of polling. He would say, 'My ratings are doing really well.'"

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