Occupy group calls on people to default on student loans

Ron Rokhy

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A faction of the Occupy Wall Street Empowerment and Education working group has called for one million people to join a pledge to default on their student loans.

The Occupy Student Debt Campaign, which is comprised of students, alumni and current faculty from schools across the country, aims to challenge the rising crisis of student debt and make people aware of the injustices of the current higher education infrastructure to the public, according to a statement from the group.

Supporters of the campaign may sign one of three available pledges: one for people who currently owe student loans, another for current faculty members and one more for people without debt who still advocate the cause, according to their official website.

The campaign’s four main principles include: federal funding for all public educational institutions, interest-free student loans, the ability of students to know where their tuition dollars are a promise to refuse payment of their student loans.

“I’m concerned about the privatization of public schools and the strain it puts on faculty members and students,” said Hillary Goodfriend, a founding member of the campaign and current NYU student. “But this is broad project, it goes beyond just alleviating debtors. The aim is make everyone aware of the problems associated with student loans.”

According to the Project on Student Debt,

In 2008, 1.4 million American students, or 67 percent of the group, who graduated from four-year universities had some student loan debt.

For public universities, the average debt was $20,200 – a 20 percent increase from 2004 when the average was $16,850.

“The underlying problem here is that the government, institutions and lenders have been shifting the burden,” said Pamela Brown, founding member of the group and current graduate student of sociology at The New School for Social Research. “They’ve taken the government’s burden of grants and put it on students in the form of loans.”

This was an intentional shift, Brown added.

“Tuition has gone up while lenders increase their profits, and our government has had a hand in this by stripping away the students’ ability to file bankruptcy on their debt,” she said.

The overall amount of money owed from student loans is approaching $1 trillion, an amount that trumps the nation’s total credit card debt, according to a report from NPR.

Participants plan to pop this bubble by refusing to comply.

“We can continue to pay and make it worse for future generations,” Brown said. “Or we could take a stand and take the power back.”

In the 2009-2010 academic year, 48 percent of Californian students graduated with an average debt of $18,113, according to the Project on Student Debt. CSUN faces similar numbers as 40 percent of its students graduate with a debt of $15,582.

“The hope here is that no one will actually default,” added Brown. “We just want to gain enough momentum to change the system.”

Though the campaign wants the to wipe the current student loan debt clean by gaining as many protesters as possible, they won’t fret if their goal of a million participants isn’t met.

“It’s not about reaching a million people or the collective default,” Goodfield said. “It’s about having a national intervention about student load debt.”