Restoring the Public Good for Youth
The financial odds are stacked against most students. Tuition rates in both public and private secondary education are rising. Simultaneously, financial aid and grants are being cut across the board. Increasingly students are turning to corporate lenders offering high interest loans. The companies, representing only their profit, endanger the possibilities of returning higher education to the public good. The rising costs of education weaken universities and colleges abilities to open their doors to students of all socio-economic classes. While unfair divisions have always existed in higher learning in the US, the economic divide is at its worst in decades.
Long gone are the days of free public universities. The GI Bill is a distant memory: a legislative act where the federal government sponsored college educations for veterans. This dramatically expanded (albeit mostly for whites) the middle-class. Interest free grants and scholarship seem to vanish. A college degree seems less like a ticket to success and more like a sentence to years of debt.
Here are some of the facts:
1. 39% of students graduate with unmanageable debt (8% of their monthly incomes)
2. During the 2006-2007 school year, average tuition, fees, room & board charges for in state students at public institutions was $12,976. In 1987 those same costs were just $7,528.
3. The maximum Pell Grant now covers 33% of tuition fees, room & board at the average four-year college. Twenty years ago it covered 66%.
4. In 2005-6, students received a total of $134.8 Billion in student aid. About 44% of this aid was from grants and 51% from loans. Just 15 years ago, those figures were reserved.
As democratic socialist young people, we must articulate to our peers that this does not have to be. All across the world, students receive excellent university educations at a fraction of the cost we do. Their governments support young people pursuit of knowledge and put a high priority on funding education. Likewise, many students vigorously defend their rights as students to education. As American democratic socialists, it is up to us to illustrate the belief (shared by millions across the globe) that education is a right, not a privilege.
In addition, the Young Democratic Socialists brings a different perspective to the Student Debt debate than our allies. We can be the ones open about the source of the problem: privatization and increased power of capitalism over education. The YDS Chapter at Bowling Green SU-Firelands “Loan Abatement” campaign offers the challenge: how can capital’s debt be forgiven but students, who represent an investment in the future, are denied similar loan abatement? We know the answer is the power of capitalists in our society. It is up to YDS to educate the student public of corporate power in education, privatization as part of a larger neo-liberal plan, and socialist and social democratic alternatives for a publicly financed university system.
There are several things YDS chapters can do:
1) Sponsor legislation such as “Opportunity Maine” in their states.
2) Collaborate with National Youth and Student Peace Coalition partners on student debt. Education was one of the six issues of NYSPC’s “Youth Agenda.” For example, we can work with the United States Student Association on reauthorizing the “Higher Education Act”
3) Do public socialist education on the power of corporate interests in student debt.
4) Do public education of privatization and under-funding of schools as connected to a larger effort to undercut the public good by the right-wing and centrist allies.  United States Students Association, Congressional Fact Sheet: Higher Education Act Reauthorization, 2007:http://www.usstudents.org/ussaDir/files/documents/Legislative_materials/factsheets/HEA07.pdf