Scott MacDonald is well aware of the hardships stemming from the trillion dollar student debt crisis in this country. His MacDonald Fellows The program was created to help solve this problem by offering scholarships to full-time students in exchange for hours of community service and a project to help those in need. Now he has written a book that addresses the issue of the high cost of college education in “Debt Free Education: Give Back and Pay It Forward. “
“Spending time with students and financial aid staff at universities made me aware of the issue of student debt,” he says. “I wanted to highlight the problem and get the public’s attention so that we can fix this problem, which has been talked about but largely ignored.”
A retired CEO who has worked extensively in real estate, MacDonald notes that his generation was able to navigate their way to college without incurring the amount of debt and interest that more recent graduates had to bear. This is something he invested in finding solutions to change.
At 73, MacDonald is also an author and philanthropist, enjoying the personal satisfaction that comes with giving, he says. He divides his time between his home in Del Mar and his condominium in downtown San Diego, and has two children, three grandchildren and a dog. He took the time to talk about what went into his book, “Education Without Debt,” how he will always be a humble Midwesterner, and to learn that being successful and being kind are not mutually exclusive.
Question: You will be remembered by a number of our readers a few years ago, when we wrote about your MacDonald Scholars program in 2017. Since then, your last book, “Education Without Debt: Giving Back and Paying It Forward”, has appeared. From writing this book, what have you learned about why college is so expensive, compared to when previous generations graduated?
A: Above all, my generation was able to find its way into school. Salaries were good and tuition fees were low. Today’s generation does not have that option. Tuition fees have increased by around 7 percent per year over the past 40 years, while salaries have increased by less than 4 percent per year, creating a large affordability gap. The reason college costs have increased so much is complex and includes less public funding per student, higher administrative costs, replacement of outdated facilities, more student services, and other factors. There are no quick fixes or policies to reduce the costs of running colleges.
Question: Can you tell us a bit about your experience paying for your university studies?
A: I worked in a factory when I was not at school. During the school year, I always had a job: serving as a table, pumping gas, or whatever was available. Most of the time, I was able to earn enough to pay for my studies. At one point, the family suffered a financial setback and I took out a student loan so that I could complete my studies. For my graduate studies, I had scholarships, veteran benefits, and my work at the factory.
What I love about Del Mar and downtown San Diego …
My friends and neighbors, Del Mar Beach and the activity and culture of downtown San Diego. … I think it’s the best of all possible worlds. The small town character of Del Mar, with its beautiful beach, complemented by the urban character and the hustle and bustle of the downtown area with restaurants, culture, entertainment venues and the Padres within walking distance.
Question: Do you think private philanthropy is a sufficient answer to the country’s student debt problem?
A: Philanthropy is very important. One of the reasons I wrote this book was to inspire others to donate to universities to set up scholarships for needy students. The book is about the need to give and some ways to give it, but anyone can call their favorite university’s development office and get involved. If they don’t have a privileged college, I have a MacDonald Scholars program at the University of San Diego, run by the school’s development office. Private donors alone cannot solve the problem. The gap between the cost of college education and personal income is too large for private funding alone to fill it. But private donations certainly help.
Question: You also describe what is being done to reduce or eliminate student debt. Can you share some of these ideas with us? What are some of the approaches proposed or implemented to solve this problem?
A: There are a lot of things that can be done. I list three pages of recommendations in the book. Some items would include more financial subsidies; partial responsibility of the school in the event of non-payment; a better explanation of loan requirements to potential borrowers, including their future repayment needs and likely future income in the field they are pursuing; and the ability to reject loans in bankruptcy, etc.
Question: During the 2020 presidential campaign and since the Biden administration took office, there have been plans to write off specific amounts of student loan debt. This has met with reluctance, both from people who have managed to repay their loans without forgiveness and from others who argue that people who cannot afford to pay themselves. their university studies should accept the consequences of their decision to pursue studies that are too expensive for them. What do you think of the idea of a student loan forgiveness, based on the research that has been included in your book?
A: I don’t think loans should just be written off completely for the reasons you point out, but I think the existing debt in many cases is too much to bear for people, in particular, and society, in general. I am in favor of the cancellation of debt related to borrowers who repay part of their balance or agree to provide a community service. Providing interest rate relief and crediting the utility can also help. We cannot ignore the problem because an 18 year old borrowed too much money on the encouragement of the lender representatives.
As I wrote in the book, “Doing nothing is a slow form of national suicide. The country is on track to achieve a less educated public, heavily indebted consumers unable to fully participate in the economy, and a society where future opportunities are increasingly based on parental income.
Question: Why is it important for you to “pay it forward”? And why was it important to you that your fellows did the same?
A: I grew up in a family with limited resources. We weren’t really poor, we just never had any money. I have been able to access professional opportunities that have led to a long and successful career, but it would not have been possible without a quality and affordable education. It is the responsibility of those who have benefited in the same way to provide access and opportunities for the next generation.
The act of giving back and helping others provides a learning experience and the immense satisfaction of helping those who need it most. I know this from experience, and my scholarship students tell me this every time we discuss their projects.
Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Family first. Plus, you can work hard, work smart, be successful, and be a nice guy.
Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: As CEO of several companies during my career, I have had access to other CEOs, bank presidents, politicians and other “movements and shakers”. But I’ll always be an unpretentious Midwestern kid who prefers spending time with family and friends.
Question: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.
A: Breakfast at Café 222 or similar place, with my dog, Sadie; a play at the Balboa Theater with a friend; and a victory for the Padres over the Dodgers at Petco. The more unbalanced the score, the better.