Student debt is a growing economic and moral crisis. The average U.S. college student today graduates with over $25,000 in debt, and nationally, unpaid tuition debt exceeds one trillion dollars.

One trillion dollars: 1,000,000,000,000.

Only a few decades ago when tuition cost a few hundred dollars, student debt was almost nonexistent. Even members of the Republican Party believed that education was a central public good that sustained the future of a truly democratic citizenry. Here at Cal, our tuition has increased 300% since 2002, and the average debt burden per student is $20,000. Students from low-income households are regularly charged more than one third of their family’s annual earnings for a year of tuition at a public college. The rate of black and Latino students graduating with unmanageable debt burdens is around 20 percent higher than that of their white counterparts. This debt burden constrains the future choices of students and perpetuates inequality.

Meanwhile, post-graduation salaries have declined in the past decade. Some students feel isolated and ashamed as they watch their credit scores plummet and get hounded by debt collectors just as their professional lives begin. Default on student loans is growing faster than any other category of debt, and it is beginning to establish a new financial bubble resembling that of the mortgage market before the 2008 crisis.

Strike Debt and progressive coalitions on campus for free education
are building a debt resistance movement to turn the university back into a debt free and fully subsidized public good that helps build a participatory citizenry, rather than an increasingly exclusive, highly priced service that constrains our
futures.

There has been no serious debate focused on addressing the underlying causes- like the skyrocketing tuition at “public” schools, stagnant wages, systemic unemployment, and ongoing public service cuts. As we become forced to go into debt for the basic rights like education, Wall Street and our finance system profits from our loan repayments . UC Berkeley in intimately connected to this system, and has pursued interest rate swaps and other debt-driven profit strategies over the past decade, all guaranteed by our tuition and financed in an increasing amount on the global market. Students, faculty and workers bear the risks of these financial deals and rarely see the rewards. The prioritization of revenue and capital assets like new buildings makes the UC more of a financial business partner then a provider of a social good.

With so much money to be made, the debate on student loans has not addressed these issues, and has focused instead on bandaids like tinkering with interest rates. Until the conventional debate around student debt is opened up to include genuine alternatives that can be acted upon, collective resistance and refusal are the tactics most likely to succeed.

Ask yourself: how much would it cost to make every single public two- and four-year college and university in the United States tuition-free for all students? Probably less than you think. After stripping off the amount that the government already spends to subsidize higher education — including at for-profit institutions — the total amount of new money necessary is less than $13 billion a year. Within the scope of the Federal budget, this is merely a rounding error, at less than one tenth of one percent of yearly spending — merely a rounding error. So, when you hear the UC Regents, Congress and political interest groups arguing about the intractability of the student debt crisis, cooking up complicated schemes that funnel money to Wall Street banks and for-profit colleges, or employing security state bureaucrats as UC presidents to protect investments– ask them where their priorities really are.

Strike Debt holds that we owe financial institution nothing, whereas to our communities, families, and friends we owe everything. We are pursuing a long-term strategy for national and international organizing around this principle, in solidarity with a global movement against debt and austerity. Debt should be changed from an issue of a falsely naturalized responsibility of the individual to a platform for collective action. This school year, we invite you to join us. You are not a loan.

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