by Paul Buchheit, mirrored from Common Dreams
‘Hell No, We Won’t Go’ — 1967
‘No Way, We Won’t Pay’ — 2015
Fifty years ago students burned their draft cards to protest an immoral war against the people of Vietnam. Today it’s a different kind of war, immoral in another way, waged against young Americans of approximately the same age, and threatening them in a manner that endangers not their lives but their livelihoods.
There are at least four good reasons why America’s young adults— and their parents—should take up the fight against financial firms who are holding high-interest student loans that total more than the nation’s credit card debt, and more than the total income of the poorer half of America.
1. The Protest Has Already Begun
Fifteen former students of for-profit Corinthian Colleges recently announced a debt strike against the company and its predatory loan practices. The 15 students, members of the Debt Collective initiative of debt abolisher Rolling Jubilee, have refused to repay their loans. Corinthian, which has been accused of false marketing, grade tampering, and recruitment improprieties, and which has 60 percent of its students default on loans, was sued in 2013 for employing a “predatory scheme” to recruit students.
2. For-Profit Colleges Use Taxpayer Money for False Marketing to Get MORE Taxpayer Money
Corinthian isn’t the only loan predator. Of 15 for-profit colleges investigated by the Government Accountability Office, 13 were found guilty of deceptive marketing, with false job and salary guarantees. The 15 companies got a stunning 86 percent of their funding from the public, in the form of student loans and grants.
Worse yet, a Senate report found that they spend about a quarter of their revenue on marketing, and take 20 percent in profits, while spending only about 17 percent on instruction.
After all that, only 22 percent of students get a degree after six years.
3. Traditional Colleges Aren’t Much Better: Students are Treated Like Products for Profit-Makers
Since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled.
To pay all the administrators, tenure-track teachers have been eliminated, and underpaid part-timers have taken their places. Adjunct and student teachers, who made up about 22 percent of instructional staff in 1969, now make up an estimated 76 percent of instructional staff in higher education, with a median wage in 2010 of about $2,700 per course, and with little or no benefits.
4. College Graduates Have Been Cheated out of Good Jobs
The unemployment rate may be going down, but the available jobs are well below the skill levels of college-trained adults. According to the New York Federal Reserve, 44 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, holding jobs that are normally held by high school graduates.
College graduates have not recovered from the recession. They took a 19 percent pay cut in the two years after the recession, and by 2013 they were part of the only age group with lower average wages in early 2013 than in 2000. As recently as July of 2014 the Federal Reserve of San Francisco wrote that recent college graduates “were and continue to be hit hard.”
Progressives have no shortage of important causes, but an attack on predatory student loan policies could be a unifying force for us, particularly if the power of social networking is employed.
An Apple executive said, “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” But almost the entirety of corporate profits are being spent on stock buybacks to enrich executives and shareholders, rather than on job training.
The proposal for an America Permanent Fund of $10,000 per household, based on the corporate debt to society for public research, is about the same, in numbers, as the $1.16 trillion of student loan debt. A protest against student loans is a good way to earn the first dividend.
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Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.