Yesterday was the Million Student March, a national event that encouraged anyone who understands that our nation’s college situation has reached crisis mode to come out and show their support. The movement has three demands: 1) tuition-free public college, 2) cancellation of all student debt, and 3) $15 minimum wage for all campus workers. Across the country, over a hundred different protests with thousands of attendees marched and chanted, calling attention to the fact that the average graduate now has $35,000 worth of student loan debt, about 40 million Americans have $1.2 trillion dollars of debt combined, and that 58% of this debt is owned by the poorest 25% of Americans. Some marches also pointed out that rising tuition costs and increased debt bars people living at poverty levels and minorities from even attending college.
However, by the end of the day, Twitter was ablaze with people trolling #MillionStudentMarch. The most common comment was that these protestors were “crazy,” “entitled,” “lazy” and exclusively writers and gender studies majors. People posted pictures of crying babies, pacifiers, and military symbols to call the protestors juvenile and suggest that they were too cowardly to ever join the military (and thus get free college education). It grew even worse when one organizer went on Fox News, was asked how the country would pay for these demands, and gave a poor answer.
Honestly, the organizer’s interview was terrible. She’s not a great public speaker and didn’t seem to have any real understanding of economics or taxation. I’ll give critics that. But she doesn’t have to come up with a way to pay for her demands. She’s not a Washington financial advisor. She’s not a Wall Street banker. She’s not on any state budgetary committee. She’s a 20-year-old college student trying to raise awareness of a really big problem. It is not her job to figure out how free tuition et al will be paid for, and that’s not what she came out to do. She came out to show people that this is a serious situation that thousands of Americans are concerned about. It is the responsibility of her government representatives to figure out how to pay for the initiative. That’s what we pay them for – to govern.
And while the interviewee may not have known how to pay for the movement’s demands, other people have made suggestions. One is putting a 0.5% tax on all Wall Street transactions, raising about $300 billion a year (As an FYI, completely free public college tuition is estimated to only cost $15 billion a year, meaning that one year of Wall Street taxation would equal 20 years’ – an entire generation – worth of free tuition.). So while “We should just tax the rich” may not have been a well thought out answer, that doesn’t mean that these demands aren’t reasonable.
People also seem to think that only humanities majors are getting into massive student loan debt and that our degrees aren’t worth shit. Unfortunately, to get any decent job, you need a college degree. Look at any job listing that pays above minimum wage, and either years’ worth of experience or a degree is required – and degree work can give you that experience. A college degree is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Also, every major pays the exact same tuition and gets into the exact same debt so “real degrees” like medicine, law, engineering, social work, and economics are in the exact same boat as all those creative writing and gender studies majors you’re denigrating. Finally, humanities degrees have worth. Writers write the outlets that give you the news, edit your books, go on your interviews, write textbooks and instructional manual copies, draft grant applications, and give you something to dream of. Artists design your brands, design your buildings, build campaigns, help you market, and keep you from remembering how shitty and boring your life is. Gender studies majors start movements, improve civil rights, work with the disadvantaged, and advocate internationally for improved rights. We do shit. We help you. Get off our Goddamn backs.
So demanding free college education isn’t just some lazy, entitled bullshit. Education is important. It is necessary. It should be free, and in fact is free – until you’re 18, that is (or 21, depending on your circumstances and place of residence). Or, if for some reason it rubs people the wrong way that college education could ever possibly be free and more people could have access to greater education, skills, and jobs, we should at least make education more affordable. The cost of a college education has risen over 500% in the past 30 years, and it is simply not possible for most Americans to attend even community college without some sort of loan. Why should graduates be so bogged down with loan repayment that they can’t even get a job in their field? (This happens all the time where you can’t afford an internship or to wait because you need to pay your loans now. So you get a crappy job and do it forever because if you quit you can’t pay your loans. It’s a vicious cycle.) Why should graduates be more focused on paying their loans than advancing knowledge, progress, and technology? Why is it acceptable that Americans can’t afford an education?
It shouldn’t be.
* Photo taken from http://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/16/why-college-costs-are-so-high-and-rising.html