Last December, the Backbone Campaign hosted our 84th Conversation with the Cabinet podcast entitled Student Debt Jubilee and Why Higher Education Ought to be Free. On April 3rd, our team led a somber Student Debtor Ball 'N Chain march to the Department of Education and Sallie Mae in Washington, D.C.; later in the spring, the Backbone Campaign was a key partner in Occupy Graduation.
On July 17th, we hosted a second Conversation on this topic. We were joined by incredible organizers using different tactics to demand higher education as a right. Our guests were Occupy Student Debt Campaign's Ann Larson, Natalia Abrams of Occupy Colleges, Robert Applebaum of Forgive Student Loan Debt,Kyle McCarthy of Occupy Student Debt, and Loan Reform Now founder Rae Ann Roca. [Kyle and Natalia are now Backbone Campaign’s Student Debt Jubilee fellows]
We were thrilled to feature guest Co-Host Glenn Daniels Jr. A recent graduate of Towson University, Glenn organized Occupy Towson after participating in Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Baltimore. In the last semester of his senior year, Glenn screened Default: The Student Loan Documentary and organized a May 1st Rally on campus that brought students, professors, activists, and union members together to speak about student and worker rights and debt.
We did a second Conversation on this topic because much has occurred since first one. In Canada, Montreal students went on strike, conducted 'casserole' demonstrations with an expanded base of support, impacted the city's economy, and met with government officials to demand the re-establishment of free higher education. Here in the U.S., student loan debt surpassed credit card debt in April, rising to $1 trillion; in the following weeks, organizers took to the streets in Washington, D.C., New York City, and elsewhere.
In addition, mainstream media coverage of politicians discussing the issue exploded in recent months; politicians need voter turnout among the 36 million Americans impacted by this issue. We have witnessed calculated sympathy for student debtors by presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And although House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) worked tirelessly for years to increase profits for predatory student lenders, recently he was self-righteously tweeting that Democrats are to blame for the increasing impoverishment of student debtors. One of Boehner's biggest campaign contributors is predatory lender Sallie Mae (which, like other lenders, also owns student debt collections agencies). And although Congress just voted to postpone a doubling of federally funded student loans, future borrowers will be saddled with an additional $20 billion in costs.
Only Green Party Presidential Candidate Dr. Jill Stein has publicly endorsed immediate student loan forgiveness and tuition-free higher education at public universities.
Our July 17 podcast facilitated discussion about strategy on this issue. We learned how diverse organizations and people with a range of short and long-term goals might collaborate. The guests explored how the Occupy phenomenon will influence future tactics during this turbulent election cycle, into 2013 and beyond.
Election-year craziness and partisan politics aside, student debt rebellion and free higher education organizers are building alliances and making plans!
Listen to the podcast and join this growing movement!
Onward together to education as a right,
Diane Wittner, Co-Host
Glenn Daniels Jr., Guest Co-Host
Conversations with the Cabinet
Free Higher Ed! by Adolph Reed Jr.
Here's A Demand: Forgive Student Loan Debt, by Robert Applebaum
Majoring in Debt by Adolph Reed Jr.
Why All Higher Public Education Should Be Free by Bob Samuels
Book: Student Loan Scam, by Alan Collinge
Default: The Student Loan Documentary (Serge Bakalian and Kyle McCarthy)
Websites and Blogs:
Occupy Student Debt (Kyle McCarthy)
Forgivestudentloandebt.com (Robert Applebaum)
Changing Universities Blog(Bob Samuels)
Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (Adolph Reed Jr. and Samir Sonti)
Intro to December 2011 Podcast:
On this, the 84th podcast in our Conversations with the Cabinet series, we learned from expert organizers about effectively challenging the unjust phenomenon of student loan debt, as well as why free higher education for all at our two- and four-year public universities is a common-sense, fair and affordable alternative.
Quality public higher education is a right and yet this basic right has been violated for 36 million Americans who have student loan debt. In 2010, average student debt upon college graduation was $24,000 (see Huffington Post article). This year, unpaid college student loans exceeded $1 trillion for the first time, and student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt. (see USA Today article). Thus, our country is creating an entire generation of indentured servants, while offering unprecedented wealth to predatory and unregulated private lenders such as Sallie Mae (related Mother Jones and Counterpunch articles).
We were joined by Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice StudentLoanJustice.org and author of book Student Loan Scam. We also heard from Serge Bakalian, ofDefault, the Student Loan Documentary, as well as Kyle McCarthy, Default distributor and co founder of Occupy Student Debt and Studentdebt.me.
The second half of our Conversation featured Bob Samuels, President of the University Council, AFT in California, author of Why All Higher Public Education Should Be Free and blogger at Changing Universities , as well as Samir Sonti, graduate student in government, free higher education expert.
Listen to the podcast, then check out our resource list to see how you can help end student debt and bring about free higher education for all in 2012!
Co-Producer and Host
Conversations with the Cabinet
Listen to the Podcast:
Student Debt Jubilee & Why All Higher Education Ought to be Free
"The cost of tuition has risen at double or triple the rate of inflation. At the same time, a very dirty and predatory lending instrument has been thrust upon students."
"The Department of Education needs to return money back to students in some way, shape or form."
"We must take steps now. There is a very active collection industry poised to do even more terrible things to students."
"Amendments to the Higher Education Act removed basic consumer protections. Defaulted loans are more lucrative than non-defaulted loans. Congress turned its back on the citizens on this issue."
"The Department of Education is a revolving door. The Office of Federal Student Aid is run by such executives as former Sallie Mae employees. This is a captured agency."
"Some predatory lenders also own collections agencies: "
Sallie Mae salliemae.com
NelNet nelnet.com National Education Loan Network
"By turning education into a commodity, we have shifted the growing burdens of higher education onto the backs of those who can least afford them. The underlying reasons for the Occupy Wall Street protests start to come into focus."
"It's a shift of wealth to the top."
Robert Applebaum: (paraphrase)
"A bailout for students would rejuvenate the economy."
"There is no longer a sense that universities are citizen-based, public institutions that we should all support."
"Higher education has been privatized and corporatized."
"In most developed countries, higher education is free. Public universities in the US were free until recently, or fees to attend were very low. The system is now broken. America spends more money than any other country on higher education, but only 30% who start out are able to get degrees."
"It's striking how cheap and how straightforward it would be to make two and four year public universities free for all enrolled students. It would cost about 75 billion dollars. This is two 2 percent of the federal budget, or 7 percent of what the government spends on the military now."
"This isn't big government. It's a question of political will, something we once had. We got CUNY, we got the University of California system, we got the GI bill."
"A study was done on the economic benefits to our country from the GI Bill. For every dollar that was spent on sending veterans to school, the federal government reaped about seven dollars. It's clearly a sound investment."
Drowning in Debt graphic by Estelle Shumann