One of the key points of discussion at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America meeting was entrepreneurship. More specifically how beneficial and productive it is to the American economy, and yet appears to be restricted to upper middle-class white men. The discussion went on to focus on how to encourage women, minorities, and the underprivileged youth to take up entrepreneurial programs and initiatives.
The answer to the first question about how to encourage people to opt for entrepreneurship is surprisingly in the US’s robust universities themselves. Universities are ideal places to fetch for talent, thrive upon the learning environment and get the cream out of the youth. Hence, they have gradually become the breeding grounds for many new innovative businesses. Examples of some of the most viable and fastest growing business, Facebook and Snapchat evolved at the university level and then went on to reach unprecedented heights because of the high intellect of university students behind it. And it is not just the meeting of bright minds that leads to business start-ups. Often college coursework can lead to the birth of a business, even when there is no particular ambition or confidence on the founder’s part in the first place. One example as CGI America quoted of such a case was of Veronika Scott, who founded a non-profit business that hires homeless women to sew sleeping bag coats. She said that when she started this project it was meant to be a class project, and had never thought that it would be established as a viable business.
However, for all the potential colleges and universities that play a pivotal role in nurturing entrepreneurship ideas, can also act as a stimulant for graduates ambitions and the economy as a whole. It was agreed in CGI America by Clinton and the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Shirley Ann Jackson that you cannot talk about universities fostering entrepreneurship and not talk about the massive student loan debt. Student loans are acting as a roadblock, holding back many entrepreneurs. Right now the loan figure is standing at USD 1.2 trillion. Nearly ¾ of the students will be carrying that debt for years after receiving their degrees and it will affect their decisions about housing, jobs, and even marriage.
Jackson was of the opinion that a possible fix for the student loan problem would be to start a loan forgiveness scheme for people who invest in the risk of starting businesses on their own accord. She expanded that such a policy would be similar to the loan forgives being offered for public service. And she also added that such a scheme would not be one of its kind. Right now if immigrants spend $500,000 or create 10 jobs in one region, they are offered visas to stay in the respective country.
Clinton talked about the inability to refinance student loans. He pointed out that a college loan is the only loan that you cannot refinance, which was truly unfair. (Clinton avoided any explicit nods to his wife’s presidential campaign, a key piece of which is a proposal for cutting down on student debt).
Clinton argued that student loans need to be treated like home mortgages because the education attained is more of a lifetime asset than any home owned.
Clinton also added that besides solving the problem of student loans, we also have to “re-dignify” skills training in this industry. He added that it was okay to admit that not everyone needs a college degree and skill training was equally important.