For my first two years, I felt like attending school at Duke was totally manageable. I had a hefty financial aid package with a few federally subsidized student loans to cover the cost. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but it was doable. Then, in June, two months before the start of a new semester, I was informed that I didn’t qualify for any financial aid package or federally subsidized student loans. With the summer coming to an end, I, like 60 percent of my college-attending peers, felt trapped. I didn’t have time to transfer to a more affordable school and didn’t want to leave Duke, so I decided the best solution was to accelerate my graduation by a year and take out a massive, private student loan. I felt a sense of crippling guilt. I felt helpless. Student loans seemed like this necessary evil 38.8 million of us just willingly accepted as we watched our debt rise and interest rates double. The only conversations surrounding student loan debt involved Senator Warren’s plan which suggests students borrow money at the same interest rates the Federal Reserve lends to bank. But sadly, 0.75 percent interest on tens of thousands of dollars feels like putting a band-aid on a wound. It’s time we as college students start having serious conversations about one of the only movements that adequately tackle this crisis: strike debt.
Strike Debt is an organization that formed as an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, which organizes around the idea of medical, personal, housing, student loan debt as something that unifies the 99 percent. But the concept is nothing new and has been practiced in other parts of the world including in France in 1989 regarding debt cancellation contracted by southern countries.
A current Strike Debt project is the “Rolling Jubilee.” Traditional debt buying is a billion dollar industry where people buy debt and then pursue its collection, rather than forgive it. In this process, debt is bought for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting on the debt, the debt is abolished. So far the project has abolished over $1.2 million in medical debt. Think of it as functioning like a bailout of the people by the people.
Strike Debt, along with similar counterparts like Occupy the Debt, breaks down tackling the student loan crisis into four parts. Step one would be eliminating all outstanding student loan debt (the current debt totaling $1.1 trillion). Step two would be making higher education a public good, which it was for most of the 20th century, and is in many of parts of the world today. Step three would include the option of the government providing zero-interest, shared-risk rate loans to students who decide to attend private, tax-exempt, accredited universities. The current deductibility of student loan interest rates alone costs tax-payers $1.4 billion, where that money could be used instead to just lower tuition costs. In other words, avoiding the bank middleman in general saves money. The final step would be complete fiscal transparency at both private and public universities. In this situation, in order for an institution to receive federal tax-exempt status, it must make its finances completely public—which should already be the case considering the public’s personal stake in higher education.
The Department of Education’s profits on student loan rates over the past five years is estimated to be $101.8 billion. Currently, the percentage of private student loan debt accounts for 15 percent of total student debt, meaning our own government is the premier entity shackling our generation. The money the government spent on ten years of war in Iraq could have paid for completely free public higher education at every single two-year and four-year school in the United States for the next 52 years. That being said, why is the concept of eliminating all outstanding student loan debt so farfetched? If we are so willing to spend money on a military industrial complex, why not instead invest in our own citizens?
The debt crisis is seriously troubling when you take into account the large demographic it plagues. 43 percent of Americans under the age of 25 already have student loan debt. The rate of black and Latino students with insurmountable debt is 20 percent higher than their white counterparts. Debt is a force that unites us all, whether it be student loan, medical, personal or housing. When absolute necessities like schooling and healthcare are the reasons for delinquency and bankruptcy, a suitable antidote is not consuming less. There is no alternative. Instead, we must collectively rise up as a majority and recognize that a status-quo debt-culture is unacceptable.
Adrienne Harreveld is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Friday. Send Adrienne a message on Twitter @AdrienneLiege.