Independent Voices: Alternative Press Coverage of Student Debt

Alternative Press Center

In These Times is proud to partner with the Alternative Press Center, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing public awareness of alternative press, to present a monthly round-up of the best of independent media from around the globe. On July 1, the interest rate for student loans is set to double from 3.4% to 6.8%. After this date, as many as 7 million students who take out taxpayer-subsidized Stafford loans will shoulder an average added increase of $1,000 in student debt. Though both parties have offered plans to halt the increase (the Republican plan proposed to offset the $5.9 billion price tag to a loan freeze by cutting preventive healthcare programs; the Democratic one by raising payroll taxes on private companies), no deal has yet been reached to freeze student loan payments. This trillion-dollar sector of the finance industry is the subject of a series of articles and multimedia features in the New York Times: While a generation of U.S. college students is staggering under a combined total of more than $1 trillion in student debt in a job market that offers no guarantees, students across the border have launched a massive campaign against planned increases to the cost of higher education. Though the four month-long student strike in Quebec has only recently made headlines in the U.S., it could hold important lessons for the fight to defend affordable education elsewhere. Gathered below are some recent pieces from the alternative press on the topic.
Indentured Servitude for Seniors: Social Security Garnished for Student Debts” by Ellen Brown (Web of Debt, June 2010) Though the burden of student debt is thought of as weighing most heavily on recent graduates, Ellen Brown reveals that nearly $37 billion in student loan debt is held by senior citizens. Given that Congress has removed nearly ever protection from student loans, including not only standard bankruptcy protections, statutes of limitations, and truth in lending requirements, but protection from usury (excessive interest),” many of these seniors are seeing their Social Security payments garnished to repay huge debts amassed over the years in the absence of such protections. Quebec’s Student Revolt Goes Viral” by Mark Engler (Dissent May 29, 2012) Mark Engler has been following the student protests in Quebec, and the government’s response. He notes that these protests have finally started getting traction in the U.S. media. Maybe the surprise is that it broke through at all--and that the strike may yet provide a resonant example for young people in this country suffering an epidemic of student debt.” Social movements, Engler claims, are often neglected by the media at first, but if they continue to grow are often picked up and turned into a phenomenon.” This was the case with the Quebec student strike, he claims. However, the students in Quebec did not need the U.S. media to cover them. They had made their claims to French media, long before the U.S. media picked up on the story. Engler then proceeds to state that the actions taken by the students in Quebec are just and that they are in the right with their demands. No Future, No Peace: YDS Conference Plots Strategy in the Age of Occupy” by Ben Cozzolino (Democratic Left v39 n4 Spring 12 pp. 9-10) The Young Democratic Socialists’ winter conference was largely concerned with resistance to tuition increases, program cuts, and debt in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement. More to Uni Than Crippling Debt” by Ben Peterson (Green Left Weekly, n911, Feb 22, 2012, p. 9) Australia’s formerly free college education has given way to an industry that makes billions of dollars annually in fees, says Ben Peterson. Universities have turned into businesses rather than centers for all to receive an education. The rush for profit within universities, Peterson notes, undermines student activity and solidarity. A new student movement must be built to topple the current structure of most universities that disregard their students’ education and strive for profit instead. “Crisis of the Overeducated” by Rick Perlstein (Boston Review, March 2012) Rick Perlstein contributes to a Boston Review forum on inequality, citing the rising social problem of the educated unemployed and noting: One reason more and more people are willing to go into more and more student debt is that they were told this is a commodity whose value can only increase, much as homeowners were told the value of their homes could only increase. And, even if the value of a college degree has certainly not collapsed, more and more [students] certainly feel like disgruntled homeowners: they are underwater on their student debt—they owe more than their degree could be possibly be worth.
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