Guest blogger Ann Larson is a graduate of the English doctoral program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She blogs about education and politics at annlarson.org. She is an organizer of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.
Occupy Student Debt Campaign: April 25 is 1T Day
On April 25, 2012, total student debt is due to surpass one trillion dollars. This staggering figure, which is higher than credit card debt, is a burden endured by millions of American families. Two-thirds of public college students leave school with debt, an average of $24,000 per student. Jeffrey Williams has called student debt a form of indenture because many students must labor for decades, often their entire lives, to pay for the right to an education. This wasn’t always the case. The City University of New York and the University of California were free or low cost for much of the 20th century. Many countries around the world fund public higher education. The US should rejoin that list.
What has happened to the US system of college financing?
We all know that the price of college has skyrocketed in recent years. Tuition has risen 400% since the 1980s, twice the rate of inflation. Certainly, this is partly the result of reduced state funding. But the story is also more complex. The high cost of college and the consequent debt burdens of American families are the result of a collusion between lenders (ie, banks) and the federal government which guarantees student loans against default. As Bob Meister and Nate Brown have shown, public colleges are public in name only, since high-paid administrators often manage them like businesses, pledging students’ tuition dollars to Wall Street to improve their institution’s bond rating in capital markets.
Students who can’t find jobs in this recession to pay back their loans (an increasingly likely prospect) are simply cogs in the machinery of capital accumulation, as their colleges become sites for generating profit for the one percent. Debtors can have their wages garnished and, as the Washington Post recently reported, it is not uncommon for retired people to be harassed by collectors about loans they took out decades before.
What can we do?
Young people are told from an early age that a college degree is a minimum requirement for a middle-class standard of living, and as such students have no choice but to become debtors if they want to earn a living wage. Occupy Wall Street has finally given students, families, and educators a platform for resisting this debt and for rethinking the financing of public higher education.
On 1T Day —April 25, 2012—students, educators, and activists from around the country will be participating in a national day of action against student debt. In Union Square, in NYC, the Occupy Student Debt Campaign is staging a mock jubilee, a write-off of all student debt. The jubilee will be followed by a celebratory march, as we take our lives – and our educational institutions – back from Wall Street.
There will also be solidarity events at locations around the country. We invite others to join us. One-T Day events include everything from mock jubilees to teach-ins on student debt in classrooms and public squares. If you’re a teacher, you might talk about student debt with your students on April 25. If you’re a student, you might organize a forum for students to discuss what high debt burdens mean for them.
The goal of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, and the many other groups that have endorsed this national action, is to change the conversation about student debt. Our message is clear: education should be a right and a public good, not a source of debt or profit.