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USA’s debt-ridden students

Tue, Dec 11, 2012

Student activists protest the increasing cost of college education at Sept. 26 action at the University of Washington in Seattle. Photo: Alex Garland

The long-overdue problem of student debt is finally seeing some solutions. Occupy Wall Street want students to unite against repaying student loans while Student Loan Justice is looking into other options, including bankruptcy.

Before she even graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, Lisa started getting bills showing how much she has borrowed and nudging her to start paying immediately to keep her interest down.

In 1995 she’d accrued $24,000 in debt but was still at least year shy of a bachelor’s degree. The amount of money she had already borrowed and the amount she needed to finish freaked her out. She figured she was digging a hole that would only get deeper.

Rather than finish her journalism degree, Lisa quit school, sent out 150 resumes to newspapers across the country and took a job at a newspaper in a Los Angeles suburb for $8.50 an hour.

She’s had good paying work since then at Boeing and other tech companies in Seattle, but not consistent. Now in her 40s, Lisa owes $100,000 for those three years in college, an amount that is steadily growing all the time.

In the pre-Occupy Wall Street days, student debt was a fringe subject, student-debt activist Alan Collinge said. People assumed students like Lisa mismanaged their finances or majored in the wrong subject. Besides, people believed that student debt was “good debt.”

“People just didn’t take it seriously,” Collinge said of student debt. Now that nearly 1 in 3 people will default on their student loans after 10 years, student debt is harder to ignore. In fact, it’s getting worse. Collinge expects eventually half of students with loans will default on their loans.

Occupy Wall Street helped draw attention to the issue, as did news that the total amount of student debt owed in the country surpassed $1 trillion.

Every Wednesday evening in Seattle, students and Occupy Seattle members march the streets banging pots, hitting drums and blowing vuvuzelas in a Student Debt Noise Brigade.

A group started marching on Capitol Hill in May with the help of the Backbone Campaign, a Vashon Island-based economic justice activism group. In September, a second group of marchers organized at the University of Washington just in time for the school year.

The group is calling for the federal government to forgive student debt and for Washington State to eliminate tuition for in-state students. It’s called a jubilee, a Biblical call to free slaves and forgive all debts.

The odds of outright forgiveness are long. Obama already gave an executive order to create a program that would collect a wage-based payment from students for 20 years after college, at which point the remaining debt would be forgiven.

Written by Aaron Burkhalter of Real Change – USA

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