Students graduating today face multiple threats to their futures. Besides climate catastrophe, COVID and the threat of other pandemics, we face a mountain of debt to overcome. Outstanding student loan debt today amounts to 1.7 trillion dollars and has been rising rapidly and continuously for the past two decades. At least 43 million in the U.S. have some student loan debt, with the average borrower today owing 39,000 dollars. This is impossible to pay back! And there’s no sign that this massive increase in student loan debt is going to stop.
This mountain of debt is a massive burden on students and college graduates. Student loans and other college expenses loom large in the minds of many students. The pressure of debt is an extreme stress during college and this pressure is not distributed equally. Black graduates have an average of 25,000 dollars more debt than white students. Despite making higher monthly payments, women take 2 years longer on average to pay off their debt than male students.
Students have no choice but to select high paying majors and jobs if they want to be able to pay off their loans. Arts and humanities majors have fallen increasingly out of favor with students because of the supposed difficulty of getting a job with those degrees. Students have less and less freedom to explore the majors and topics that interest them in college and instead have to find the right degree to pay back their loans. And student loan debt is an important means of political control as well. Students today have much less time and financial security to devote themselves to fighting and organizing for social change than they did in the 1960s and 1970s.
Students and graduates, trapped by this debt, have become a huge source of revenue for the government, banks, and student loan servicers. Student loan servicers, private companies that manage student loan repayment for the government and private banks, make hundreds of millions of dollars each year by managing student loans. The servicers have used every tool they can, legal or not, to cut operating costs – making payment even more difficult for students and graduates. Private banks own more than 100 billion dollars in student loans and are able to collect interest rates from 4 to 12% on these loans. But the federal government is the largest loan provider by far, owning 1.6 trillion dollars’ worth of loans and collecting 70 billion dollars a year from them.
The student loan crisis also shows the lie of capitalism that if we just work hard and get an education we can get ahead in life. But even students who do everything right still have their lives sacrificed to corporate profits. Students are not only chained by debt but are also facing an economic landscape of stagnant real wages in a period of the highest inflation rate in decades. The future that capitalism promises is hollow and instead we’re being squeezed and crushed by low wages and high interest payments.
We can’t expect the government to solve this crisis. Not only do they own and benefit from student loans, but they’ve helped every step of the way to ensure that banks and student loan servicers are able to make profits off of students. The government has given huge leeway to student loan servicers to continue their corrupt practices and to continue to suck money from students.
We can’t trust the Democrats to release us from this student debt or to implement free college for all. Biden has refused to consider total cancellation of student loan debt – despite the fact that the federal government owns the vast majority of that debt and could easily stop payments. Nor has he passed any plan to support free college education or increase federal funding for education – which is at the root of the problem of student loan debt. Of course, he hasn’t done any of this! Biden serves the interests of banks and corporations who stand to gain the most from a student body mired in debt and forced to find jobs on the bosses’ terms.
Why do we want to live in a world where education is not free and accessible to everybody? It’s up to us to organize ourselves on our campuses and in our communities to fight for an education system that doesn’t force us to mortgage our futures just to get the basic right to an education. Imagine the power of a mass student movement across the country! We could win a world without student debt, with free education for all, with an education system that allows us to grow and learn and not just become “raw materials” to serve as gears in the capitalist system – but only if we fight for it.