The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Student Loan Debt—Theft and Robbery!

Oct 2, 2023

Repayments of student college loans resumed on October 1st for the first time since March of 2020. The interest started accruing on September 1st. Nearly 44 million people in the U.S. “owe” 1.77 trillion dollars on student loans.

One out of every five households in this country is paying student loans. The average borrower has over $37,000 in loans for attending a public university and over $11,000 for attending a community college. In fact, it’s working-class families who, in their vast majority, are suffering under this weight.

How Did We Get Here?

Historically, only the children of the wealthy had the right to receive an education in the U.S. It was social movements—in the 1800s, including from the period of the Reconstruction, after the Civil War, all the way up to the Civil Rights and Black movements of the 1960s—that made it possible for the children of the working class and poor to receive a public education.

Similarly, it was normally only young people from wealthy backgrounds were able to go on into higher education. They were, and still are, for the most part, the ones who enter Ivy League universities. They are the ones who have been able to go to the university on their parents’ incomes and who come out without a penny in debt, the ones who walk into “careers” based on family connections.

Struggles Opened Colleges to Workers

Struggles of the working class, particularly in the black population, in the 1940s and ‘50s and into the ‘60s, opened up more access for the working class to get some higher education. And as a response to the Black movement’s demand for “open enrollment” and “education available to all” in the 1960s, the government set up guaranteed loans (not grants) for students with family incomes of less than $15,000 a year. When this program was set up, however, the cost of a college education was still relatively low.

But Then Costs Soared

The big increase in student indebtedness began in the early 1980s, in the midst of the worst recession at the time, since the Great Depression. All kinds of public services were cut. The government slashed its support for public colleges and universities, and in turn, these institutions boosted their tuition much faster than the rate of inflation. Financial aid did not keep up. The federal Pell grant for low-income students, for example, once covered the vast majority of college costs. Today it meets only about one quarter.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 1970–71 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public non-profit university was $394. By the 2020–21 academic year, that amount jumped to $10,560, an increase of 2580%.

One borrower described his experience as follows: "I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in English writing and $42,207 in debt. In the years that followed, I paid about $370 a month while working…paying a total of $57,347—or 136% of the original balance."

Student Loan Set-Up—No Forgiveness

Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Today, the government pays collection agencies to go after everything they can get their hands on: they can seize tax refunds, garnishee checks, disability payments, and Social Security checks.

From the beginning, the federal government did not guarantee an education for everyone, much less a free one. But the government, through the Department of Education, did contract with loan servicing agencies that make money off of servicing federal loans. The government turned higher education into just another avenue for profit. It guarantees that the loan servicing agencies are paid. It guarantees that banks are paid, no matter what, that hedge funds can buy up student loan debt.

False “Promise Plans” for Debt “Relief"

During his 2020 campaign for president, Biden promised a student debt relief program. But no matter what plan does go through, any plan is a band-aid on a system that continues to put tens of millions of people in debt—often for the rest of their lives.

No matter how the political parties play it, student debt isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a class issue. This system will spend ten times more on the military budget than it spends on the education budget. College should be free, and these budgets should be reversed.

The real fix is obvious. The class that produces everything has every right to be freed up enough to pursue education. It’s the working class that has the power to get rid of this class system and replace it with one where the wealth it produces is used for what human beings need.