So, like many students of my generation, I got stuck with some student loans for undergrad. I didn’t end up at the school of my dreams (Brandeis) because I couldn’t afford it, although I got in. I ended up at a tiny private liberal arts in the middle of the Ozarks, and when I look back on it, it was absolutely the best college experience a student could hope for. A top notch education that left me with manageable student loan debt. My loans from undergrad don’t compare to what I’ve heard from others.
Then, I managed to get into grad school on a fellowship, no money out of my pocket. And, while in grad school, I realized that this is how school should be. Free. That’s right. If they can do it in Germany and elsewhere, we can do it here. Free, state-funded higher education. After all, the right to an education should not be denied to anyone. But when we make education unobtainable (and undesirable, even) by virtue of being unaffordable, we deprive people of that right.
When the British government announced that it would hike tuition to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year, triple what it had been (something around 3,000 pounds), students took to the streets and parliament. They protested. That’s right. Students actually said, “Holy shit, it’s gonna cost me a kidney just to get an education. That ain’t right.” And they rallied together.
Some Americans might view the reactions of the British students with amusement. “$14,000?” we might scoff and laugh, “I’m paying 30 f-ing thousand a year! What a bunch of wimps!” But guess what? We are the wimps. We are the wimps for letting our government, the parasitic banks that profit from our student loan debt, and the equally parasitic universities that profit from their relationship with the banks from which we take our loans…we are the wimps for letting these institutions screw us and cripple us with debt that some of us will never be able to repay. See, the British students’ reaction stem from the fact that they, like those in several European countries, are accustomed to paying very little (very little compared to us, anyway) and, in some places, nothing for a higher education.
In Germany, for instance, colleges (although they are not colleges in the sense that we understand them) are mostly free – while some students have to pay around 500 Euros ($650) per semester in administrative and tuition fees. In Britain, tuition generally ran about 3,000 pounds a year ($6,000) in contrast. Still cheaper than the U.S – hell, most students here would be lucky to pay $6,000 a semester at a 4-year university, public or private (unless you pay in-state tuition). My undergrad, a private school, was always around $8,000 per semester and that was in the early and mid-2000s. Nonresident undergrad tuition at the University of Iowa, for instance, is currently $11,000 per semester. I won’t even mention how much my law school tuition is – hint, it’s ungodly.
Because I think every human being has a right to an education, I think it is unacceptable to let our government, banks, and universities continue to infringe upon that right by making education unaffordable, by every year jacking up the tuition. I have been more fortunate than some others, able to get scholarships and fellowships throughout all of my education. But I am no less infuriated about the loans that I racked up in undergrad and that I'm now piling up for my living expenses. I am no less infuriated about the lonas and debt that my classmates have racked up and continue to rack up. Nothing can justify forcing students into lifelong debt for the sake of an education, something which we all need to survive and to grow in this ever-changing world. A serious and enduring student protest against such injustice and greed is long overdue. British students are protesting and fighting this outrageousness. So, what are American students waiting for?