Tuition-Free Public College
Access to higher education for students in the United States, particularly students of color, is under attack. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public colleges and universities rose 40 percent from 2002 to 2012. Similarly, prices at private nonprofit colleges and universities increased by 28 percent. This is approximately four times the rate of inflation! At the same time, states have spent less per student on higher education following the Great Recession.
Meanwhile, recent budget agreements have reduced the Pell Grant Program by nearly $5 billion per year. More than 9 million students rely on Pell Grants to complete college, including more than half of Latino and Black undergraduates! As tuition is skyrocketing and the programs that help low-income students attend college are cut back, we need to fight back. We need to stand up and demand tuition-free public colleges and universities in the richest country in the world.
Cancellation of All Student Debt
By fighting to cancel all student debt, we want to challenge the rampant inequality and institutionalized racism in higher education. The average college graduate in the Class of 2015 has over $35,000 in debt. More than 40 million Americans share a total of $1.2 trillion in student debt, more than 58 percent of which is held by the poorest 25 percent of Americans. Meanwhile, Congress passed legislation that doubled the interest rates for federal student loans in 2013.
According to Demos, 81% of Black students finish college with student debt, compared to 63% of white students. Not only do they borrow more often, the average Black student borrows nearly $4,000 more than the average white student! Sallie Mae, the largest private student loan lender in the country, frequently faces class action lawsuits for its racist and discriminatory predatory lending practices. Since 2008, states have continuously divested in higher education, making students more dependent on lenders like Sallie Mae. If we want to abolish student debt, we need to build a bold mass movement!
A $15/Hour Minimum Wage for Campus Workers
While top administrators take home six and seven figure salaries, many campus workers are paid poverty wages and are forced to rely on federal and local assistance. Similarly, most adjunct professors are paid abysmal salaries per course. Since 2012, low wage workers across the United States have fought for a $15/hour minimum wage. This challenge to economic inequality has captured national attention and led to concrete victories for workers in several cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco. It’s time to bring this fight to our campuses.
Cafeteria workers, janitors, and many other workers often face low wages and long hours. Nearly half of minimum wage workers are people of color, with many more making just above the minimum wage. Meanwhile, the average public college president receives $428,000/year and the average private college president receives $475,403/year. Other top administrators have similarly high salaries. At the same time, several schools are investing exorbitant amounts of money in new stadiums while the people who make our schools run can’t pay their rent. A $15/hour minimum wage would help to lift millions of people, especially people of color, out of poverty. If we get organized and fight against poverty wages on our campuses and communities, we can win!
Divestment from Private Prisons
From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people. Despite making up a quarter of the population, 58% of these 2.3 million people are Black or Latino. Centuries of institutionalized racism in America and racist “tough on crime” policies have created this appalling situation. Meanwhile, private prison corporations make billions of dollars on this continuous oppression. Mass incarceration begins with the school-to-prison pipeline, or the systematic punishment and/or arrest of students of color for misbehavior or minor offenses.
Across the country, students have fought back against mass incarceration. Last year, Columbia University divested from private prisons after students organized and demanded their university stopped supporting this horrendous industry. There is no reason that our institutions of learning should be investing in this industry, especially while schools are closing and higher education funding is being cut.
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