Comedian and “Patriot Act” host Hasan Minhaj dished out a blend of jokes and statistics Tuesday while testifying to Congress about the country’s rising student loan debt crisis.
Minhaj, whose political comedy show highlights a number of issues that include student loan debt, appeared alongside several experts and consumer advocates before the House Financial Services Committee to talk about the predatory student lending industry and the growing debt crisis facing at least 44 million people. The full committee hadn’t taken up the issue in at least 20 years.
“You don’t need to be drowning in debt to understand that this is an issue sidelining millions of Americans,” the 33-year-old said. “People are putting off marriage, kids, homeownership and retirement ― especially my generation.”
Minhaj, who used to appear on “The Daily Show” before getting his own Netflix series, “Patriot Act,” last year, aired an episode in February in which he broke down the often confusing but debilitating problem of crushing student loan debt in the United States. The segment highlighted that 44 million people in America owe more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt and that loan servicers, such as Navient, have a history of misleading student borrowers and pushing them into repayment plans that result in even more debt.
At the committee hearing Tuesday, Minhaj said he polled his live studio audience on that show and found that among about 200 people in the studio, there was more than $6 million in student debt.
“Now granted, our audience is mainly unemployed poli-sci majors, but that’s still a lot of money,” he told the committee, getting some laughs.
The comedian then said he and his team of researchers looked up where each committee member went to college and what their school’s inflation-adjusted tuition was at the time. According to Minhaj, on average the entire committee graduated from college about 33 years ago and paid an inflation-adjusted tuition of $11,690 a year. Currently, the average tuition at all those same schools is nearly $25,000, a 110% increase, when wages have increased only 16% in that time, according to the host.
“So, people aren’t making more money and college is objectively way more expensive,” Minhaj said. “And yet many borrowers are still treated like deadbeats because the government has put their financial futures in the hands of predatory for-profit loan servicing companies.”
Later during the hearing, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) ― who used to be on MTV’s “The Real World” ― tried to argue that “smarter” students always go to higher-acclaimed schools, to which the panel of witnesses disagreed. When he said, “If you have a 20 on your ACT, you’re not going to Harvard,” Minhaj interjected with: “Or, if your mom’s Aunt Becky, you can just pay your way to USC. … You and I, we’re both former MTV stars. You get it.”
Minhaj stressed the fact that student borrowers don’t get to choose their loan services because the Education Department does it for them, providing no incentive for competition that would compel such companies to provide better service.
“So really, all I’m asking today is, why can’t we treat our student borrowers the way we treat our banks? Because 44 million Americans, that is too big to fail,” he said. “Thank you so much for your time, and I will now go back to where I came from.”