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From Draft NOtices, April-June 2015

Student Debt and Activism

—Amanda Jordan

Student debt is an important deterrent that keeps students from considering social justice work after college. Rather than investing time or intellectual curiosity in social justice and peacemaking, after graduation my peers focus on “paying dues to The Man” rather than fighting him.

However, this has not always been so. Many people can remember when the University of California and other public colleges had almost token tuition costs. The high number of students protesting the Vietnam War and engaging in other social activism in the 1960s and 1970s stimulated a response from the Right to quell student demonstrations and commitments -- in the form of high tuition.

Since 1978, the cost of tuition in higher education has surged 1,120 percent, according to Bloomberg Business. Compared to the rising costs for medical care and food, and taking into account inflation, higher education costs are completely out of proportion. For-profit schools, which are increasingly popular, spend a disproportionate amount of money on marketing as compared to actual educating. Both public and private schools are spending more money than ever on administrative and facility costs, taking away tenured academic positions and replacing them with administrators and part-time professors.

The effects of student loan debt ripple throughout the wider economy. High student debt creates a culture of fear among Millennials, making us cautious toward risk and therefore slower to buy homes or make other large purchases. Even more prominent is the idea that graduates should not pursue what interests us intellectually, instead focusing all of our energy into an occupation that makes the most impact on our student loan debt.

The student debt issue is further complicated by the long reach of the military industrial complex into higher education. Recruiters promise the military will pay for college, and they also offer loan-forgiveness programs to some indebted students. Now that more high school students are going on to college than ever before, especially students of color and low-income students, the military can use the issue of debt alleviation to further militarize young people who believe education will better their lives. The true cost of choosing that path -- i.e., the possible moral, psychological and physical injury -- is rarely explained

When I was an undergrad at the University of California, San Diego, the students connected the issue of high tuition and militarization with a successful divestment campaign to stop the Regents from funding the oppressive government in Sudan with our tuition fees. Though the scale of such movements now is smaller than the past, similar ones do exist today, including one at UC Davis to no longer invest in anti-Palestinian companies.

The future for students desiring higher education will remain bleak unless we find creative responses to this system of economic enslavement. For example, Debt Collective, a spin-off from Rolling Jubilee and the Occupy Movement, has been creating ways for students to protest their student debts -- ranging from flat out not paying them to crowd-sourcing other students’ loans and then abolishing them. Students and graduates must continue to educate themselves on the relationship between higher education and the military industrial complex, committing themselves to creating a better future for the next generation of college grads.

For a list of companies invested in by the University of California, see:

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (



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