A common phrase said to the millions of young people that seek higher education is that “college is a ladder of upward mobility.” Unfortunately, from trade school to college, this ladder is sinking in a swamp of $1.7 trillion of student loan debt.
But college students are pushing back against the growing weight of this crisis. Students at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) recently joined the Student Debt Crisis Center (SDCC) in a burgeoning “Free the Degree” college outreach coalition. The student government unanimously passed legislation calling on President Biden to cancel all federal student loan debt. The Associated Students of UC Riverside (ASUCR), which represents over 24,000 students, joined the Free the Degree coalition because of the economic benefits and the moral imperative of debt cancellation.
From the 2008 Great Recession to the Covid pandemic, college students’ political perspectives have been shaped by major economic and health crises. In both of these major events, the wealthy and well-connected got bailouts while working people were left out to dry. Throughout the pandemic, students have seen the federal government rush to pump over $1 trillion into Wall Streetwhile President Biden has still not fulfilled his promise to broadly cancel student debt. Many current students, seeing the looming crisis, have thrown their lot in with supporting federal loan forgiveness.
The message from students is clear: Now is the time to take immediate action to end the student debt crisis once and for all. With 20 million college students nationwide, there is immense potential for mass actions, well-coordinated events, and formal legislation from student organizations and student governments. In fact, while major cities like Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and others have passed resolutions calling for student debt cancellation, the Student Debt Crisis Center and student-governments nationwide have been working to pass similar proposals in colleges across the country. In January, 111 student body leaders representing over 1.4 million students across the country wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to use his executive authority to cancel student debt. “We know the burden of student loan debt is devastating for our economy and preventing a generation of young people from accruing wealth, pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, and starting families,” said Ranen Miao, a signatory on the letter and Student Body President at Washington University in St Louis.