As signatories of one these three pledges, we have engaged in an act of mutual aid, either by opting to participate in a debt strike, or by supporting one. By adding our voice to the call to strip higher education of its dependence on debt bondage, we are translating the precepts and working ideals of the Occupy movement into an initiative for action.
The Four Principles/Beliefs
**** Tuition-Free Public Higher Education
The single, largest step we could take to alleviate future student loan debt would be to guarantee tuition-free education for students enrolled at public colleges and universities. In the case of systems in California and New York that were formerly free, this would be a restoration of the status quo. For others, it would be a restoration of the spirit of the GI Bill, which provided a free college education to tens of millions, and established U.S. higher education as a democratic gold standard worldwide. According to a recent estimate, drawn from Department of Education data, the cost of covering tuition at all the nation’s two- and four-year colleges and universities would be about $70 billion. Put in the perspective of the federal budget, a recent audit found that the Pentagon “wastes” this sum in unaccountable spending every year. Ending the Bush tax cuts ($80 billion annually) would easily cover this cost.
**** Zero-Interest Student Loans
Student loans are not consumer loans, and they should not be packaged as if they were consumer credit debt. At a time when a university degree is considered to be a prerequisite for employment in the knowledge economy, debt, for most students, is a precondition for entry into the workforce. They cannot work unless they have gone into debt–a condition akin to indenture. This arrangement does not correspond in any meaningful way to a consumer choice. Zero-interest student loans are the only justifiable kind of lending under these circumstances. The current scenario, in which government agencies, banks, and other private lenders set extortionate rates and extract lavish profits is corrupt and abhorrent.
***** Private Colleges Must Open Their Books
Students at private and for-profit universities and colleges have a fundamental right to know how their tuition dollars are being allocated and spent. These institutions are fiscally dependent on student loan debt, they enjoy a tax-free status, and they are beneficiaries of federal largesse in all sorts of ways. Withholding information about the conduct of their fiscal affairs is a violation of the ethos of shared governance and transparency that liberal institutions like universities should be promoting, and practicing.
***** Student Debt Written Off In The Spirit of Jubilee
The student loan industry has profited from borrower vulnerability through predatory lending practices such as compounding interest rates, high collection fees, and few consumer protections. Inflating tuition costs have been financed through student debt that will soon exceed 1 trillion dollars. The morality of perpetuating this unjust system by continuing to pay these predatory loans is questionable. In times of fuller employment, the student loan debt system has yielded no end of private suffering and humiliation for at least two generations of debtors. In a time of chronic underemployment–and the worst may be yet to come–the burden is beyond tolerance. Immediate forgiveness in the spirit of a jubilee, where the injustice of an unpayable debt is redeemed through a single, corrective act, is the only just response to this crisis.