by Natalia Abrams and Kyle McCarthy [published on Huffington Post on 8/15/12]
There are countless stories of Americans of all ages, and from all walks of life, drowning in student loan debt. As a result of such debts, millions of our fellow citizens are not buying homes, not starting businesses, they're putting off starting families, and, for them, the American Dream seems more and more out of reach.
Since 1978, college tuition has skyrocketed by over 900%, while simultaneously, grants and scholarships continue to be slashed. The result? Students are forced to mortgage their futures with student debt, from which there is no escape. In 2010, student debt actually eclipsed credit card debt as the second largest consumer debt in the country (second only to mortgage debt, surpassing $1 trillion in total). The Atlantic recently reported that, since 1999, student debt has increased by 511%.
And who benefits from so many Americans bogged down with student debt? The lenders, of course. The nation's largest student lender, Sallie Mae, a company that continues to lobby against consumer protections and which has poured millions into destroying Pell Grants, recently announced that they would be issuing dividends to shareholders, enriching themselves off of the backs of those who did nothing other than to seek out a better life through higher education. At a time when funding for education is being slashed at all levels, the lenders are flush with cash as our leaders stand idly by, refusing to do anything about this ever-growing problem.
These student lenders shower our leaders with millions of dollars, give them free rides on corporate jetsand, perhaps most egregious, the single largest recipient of campaign cash from the student lending industry, Speaker John Boehner, was rewarded by Sallie Mae for doing its dirty work by giving his daughter a job at General Revenue Corporation, Sallie Mae's collections subsidiary. Yes, you read that right. Sallie Mae actually has its own collections agency. When a borrower defaults, he or she can be charged up to 25% of the principal amount owed, including capitalized interest. One could logically conclude that it's in the lender's best interests, and can make far more money, when borrowers default on their loans. Why else would the lenders be so unwilling to work with borrowers to come to reasonable repayment options?
Recently, over a million people signed a petition on SignOn.org urging the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to at least hold hearings on H.R. 4170: The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012.
Last month, Education Committee Chairman John Kline was the target of a "Twitter Bomb" Campaigncalled "#ListenToTheMillion" -- a reference to the million people who signed the petition in favor of H.R. 4170. Within thirty minutes, #ListentotheMillion was a nationally trending hashtag on Twitter. Kline's reaction to so many urging him to take action? Silence. Silence at a time when at least two out of three of students take out loans for college and at least 1 out of 5 of those are DEFAULTING on them.
Those burdened by student debt deserve better and, therefore, we must demand better from our leaders in Washington. We need leaders willing to represent the will of the people. When it comes to student loans it means restoring basic consumer protections, pushing to increase grants, to enact common sense repayment plans that would help struggling borrowers, and to forgive at least some student loan debt.
Silence and complacency on the part of Congress, when so many people are suffering, is an absolute disgrace and a dereliction of duty. The problem isn't going away. The game is rigged and, therefore, it's up to us to take power back. We need action and, for this reason, we must change the game.
On Friday August 17, we plan to do just that with the help of a new crowdfunding platform called YouLobby.com.
"YouLobby allows everyone to now have the same power that corporations, special interest groups, trade associations and unions enjoy by being able to have daily advocacy in state and federal government," says Chris Litton, CEO and Co-Founder of YouLobby.
YouLobby is the platform from which Student Debt Crisis will launch its latest campaign -- #ItTakesOneDollar, wherein participants will be encouraged to donate just one dollar to the campaign, then share the news with Rep. John Kline on Twitter with the following tweet:
@RepJohnkline I just donated $1 to the #HR4170 campaign on @YouLobby! #ListenToTheMillion #ItTakesOneDollar tip @digg StudentDebtCrisis.org
Join Youlobby and Student Debt Crisis on August 17 to be a part of a potentially game changing event to turn the tables for student borrowers. #ItTakesOneDollar to make a difference for millions of struggling students. Will you be a part of history?
*StudentDebtCrisis is a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to fundamental reforms to the way in which higher education is funded in America. It was founded in July, 2012 when Robert Applebaum of ForgiveStudentLoanDebt.com joined forces withNatalia Abrams, and Kyle McCarthy, Backbone Campaign fellows, to pool resources in order to broaden the reach of their shared messages, and to establish a central hub for information and resources related to student debt issues.