The Spark

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

Student Loans:
A Generation Crushed Under a Mountain of Debt

Jun 4, 2012

When I graduated high school in 2004, taking out loans to pay for school is just what you did. ... Now I’m left with a mountain of debt, a great deal of stress and the hopelessness that I’ll never get out from under this.”

This is 26-year-old Jessica Scott of Grand Haven, Michigan. She graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in journalism and $60,000 in debt. She is working four part-time jobs and living with her parents, because she can’t afford rent after making her loan payments.

Scott is certainly not alone. The average student loan debt in Michigan was more than $25,000 in 2010, and about the same in the U.S. overall. But “average” means that those with fewer means to pay for tuition – students from working-class families – are being crushed under debts much higher than that. With only a four-year college degree in today’s job market, most of them will not make enough money to pay off their debt in less than 30 years – if that.

What went wrong? The typical explanation, coming from the media and repeated everywhere these days, is that these young people, just like the “sub-prime” home buyers of a decade or so ago, made “unwise” choices.

No, that’s blaming the victim for the crime. Like the sub-prime home loans before, banks push student loans on people – on young people who have no choice but to take them if they want to go to college.

Just look at the cost of college these days – and those media “experts” don’t even mention that! At Michigan’s public universities, for example, tuition has increased by 29% between 2008 and 2012, and now it’s more than $13,000 a year at the University of Michigan. Same in other states – University of California (UC) charges $14,000 a year for tuition.

Only a generation ago, in the late 1980s, the yearly tuition at the UC was less than $1,000.

This can’t be explained away by inflation, or the usual excuse of the “market forces.” No, obviously, a conscious policy decision has been made and carried out in this country in the past few decades – a decision to take public money away from programs that benefit the ordinary layers of the population. And the economic collapse of the last few years has given state officials an excuse to accelerate the cuts.

Education is an area where state cuts are the most obvious. Ohio State University, for example, used to get 25% of its budget from the state in 1990. In 2002, that amount was down to 15%; today it’s only 7%. And tuition and fees at OSU have increased by 60% since 2002. Today, the yearly tuition, fees and living expenses at OSU amount to more than $25,000 – as they do at other public universities across the country.

All that public money cut from education for decades – where has it gone? Just look at the record profits of big corporations; look at the wealth amassed by billionaires.

This is what’s called class war – a reckless, relentless war waged by the ruling class against the working class.