OWS Needs to Ditch its Student Loan Platform

With an early victory under its belt, and while it continues to capture media attention, it’s time for Occupy Wall Street to narrow its demands, and put a plausible face on the enterprise. The first step is to ditch the unrealistic request for student loan forgiveness.

For reasons I can’t fathom, demands for loan forgiveness have always been a staple of youth movements — but it’s never gonna happen. Forgiveness wouldn’t erase debt, it would just shift it, saddling corporations with the more than $1 trillion dollars currently borne by students nationally. Perhaps corporations remain better able to carry that burden than recent graduates on an individual basis, but on a systemic level, the financial sector simply can’t write down another trillion dollars without prompting another industry-wide collapse. Nor can universities simply stop charging for college degrees, without eradicating jobs for academic professionals, and endangering the research universities that make American higher education (and science) so unique. Simply put, there’s really no such thing as a free lunch here.

And, demands for loan forgiveness fairly clearly bump up against the honorable opposition’s favorite mantra: “personal responsibility.” Some issues truly are out of the hands of even responsible citizens: employment (in many cases) is one of them. Loan debt is not. In today’s economy, a college degree is a bare necessity for a successful life — but a degree from the institution of your choice is a luxury. You don’t have to go to Harvard to get a good education. Nor do you have to go to one of the quaint little liberal arts schools that define the college experience in the popular mindset, but stand to set you (or your family) back $50,000 a year, and offer only a mediocre academic pedigree in return. I sympathize with the kid from a poor family who saved day-in-day-out, went to Georgia Tech, did well, and still can’t get a job — or was laid off when his sector of the economy imploded. I don’t sympathize with (say) SMU alums who simply didn’t ever think about how they’d pay back their loans. That’s on you.

Part of building a good movement is crafting an agenda that’s forward-thinking enough to inspire, but realistic enough to potentially see some real-world success. OWS has hit the first mark — wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could go to Harvard, and not pay a dime?? — but needs to dial it back to hit the second. Until that happens, I’ll sympathize generally with the protestors, begrudge them the minor inconvenience they inflict on my Financial District, and thank God for the privilege of living in a country where people like them can sit around in a park just to “make a statement.” I’ll even take seriously their general discontent (ahem, NSFW) with the current state of things.

But I won’t respect them as a movement until the organizers kick this, and the Marxist element, out of their platform.


  1. Fifty thousand dollars a year? Ho-ly ****.

    How much would the Georgia Tech degree cost?

    1. Bear in mind, a lot of times there’s the Sticker Price and the Actual Price for the ridiculously expensive private colleges. For example, I went to Vanderbilt University and got about 2/3 of the costs covered by academic scholarships. Going off of its website, Vanderbilt now has a 2011-2012 sticker price of $59,248 (plus additional lab fees for engineering students). On the other hand, for the 2010-2011 year 63% of students got either need-based financial aid or merit-based scholarships, with the average financial aid package being $42,360 (which was around the sticker price my freshman year!). So the (admittedly slight) majority of undergraduates (and their families) there don’t actually pay the sticker price.

      But yeah, a private college in America can potentially cost a shitton. Out-of-state public is going to be less but still a lot. To use the Georgia Tech example, sticker price for in-state students is about $18,000 a year less than it is for everybody else.

  2. Less :). Nearly free, if you can maintain a B average, which is quite hard there!

  3. One alternative would be to remove the restriction that student loans are unaffected by bankruptcy. Never really made sense to me that those loans in particular are some strange class of loan

    1. That’s one place that needs revision.

      They’re talking about how really, college tuition is the next bubble. They are seen as safe investments, because they are dependable…which also means it has many of the same traits as the mortgage loan crisis.

      Except, they can’t just take foreclose your house and bankrupt out of it.

      It’s one of the highest sources of debt in this country and can follow you forever.

  4. I mean, I do think that there is a big problem with higher education in this country. While I think it’s “worth it”, because unemployment is still lower for people with a college degree, and they still make more, it isn’t as good as it used to be.

    As I’ve said, I’m someone in higher education fundraising, the amount of debt and raising tuition freaks me out, and also negatively affects my results…because alumni complain about cost and debt.

    Yet, I think that compounds another problem, because I think high alumni donations make institutions focus more on academics, results, and post graduation services, as opposed to admissions, sports, and facility enticements.

    (Also, I do like making other people jealous though that I went to a state school and have never had debt).

  5. I didn’t think I would ever say this but even Australia’s awful HECS-HELP system sounds better. Only repay when you can actually afford it. Ours follows you through bankruptcy, but is cleared at death. One of the reasons studying at uni is popular with the retired crowed.

  6. The Debt is an illusion – a fresh start is the only way out of inevitable (mathematically) debt-deflation or hyperinflation.

    1. Huh?

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