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For decades, the U.S. system of higher education has operated on a unique premise: To make college affordable for a broad swathe of Americans, student debt must be an almost inviolable obligation.

Now, authorities are starting to question that assumption. It’s about time.

Capitalist societies have long taken a forgiving approach to people who can’t pay their debts. The rationale is that allowing them to seek relief through bankruptcy makes everyone better off: Creditors get what they can, the individual gets a second chance, and society benefits from a legal system that encourages people to take risks.

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