In an attempt to quell dissent on college campuses where students are beginning to vocalize a resistance to the price of higher education, the Obama Administration announced its hopes to reduce student loan debt this year. Specifically, graduates would be able to cap their loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income.
While the proposal will lower the overall cost of college tuition for students in the long run, it only does so minimally. More importantly, it fails to address critical issues by assuming that universal access to education is an impossible goal. We hear that the country has no money to make college less expensive, but such a conclusion assumes we currently distribute and allocate funding for students fairly and proportionately.
Luckily, the Occupy Wall Street movements are addressing these issues. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s timid plan silences more radical demands by compiling an attractive package that lowers debts, which conveniently helps his campaign and his image instead of restructuring higher education.
Until the government can implement and assess structural changes in the ways students pay for college, activist organizations will continue to urge those in power to forgive student loan debt completely. Though the idea may seem unfeasible at first glance, debt forgiveness at least legitimizes the notion that education is a basic right and should be free.
Horrifyingly, student loan debt is on track to reach $1 trillion in 2011, according a New York Times article. MoveOn.org, a self-described progressive organization, posted on its website that the top 400 richest Americans have a collective net worth of $1.37 trillion — a sum large enough to erase our massive student debt.
By taking both statistics seriously, the U.S. could theoretically negotiate a system of education that doesn’t rely on annual tuition hikes to sustain itself. If the 400 richest Americans paid off all student loan debt, they would each still be worth $925 million, according to MoveOn.org. While this is a simplistic solution that does not account for the politics of taxes and ideologies, it at least demonstrates that the money exists — it’s just selectively hoarded.
At the end of the day, $1 trillion in student loan debt is inexcusable. A politically educated and socially engaged society creates more space for intellect, creativity and debate — something we should collectively invest in as a nation. When put this way, free education seems more logical than allowing 400 privileged elitists to sit on their money all day.
Chris Zivalich is a senior journalism major. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org