Important legal victories during the civil rights era and the expansion of public higher education in the immediate postwar years democratized access to university and colleges to students of color and working-class communities. In recent years, however, shrinking public funding for higher education, unprecedented tuition increases, and increasing reliance on debt has narrowed access to many students. Astronomical tuition and ballooning student debt, which exceeds $1 trillion, ensure that rather than a right, college education in the United States is an increasingly unaffordable luxury. The relationship between race and debt exacerbates this condition for black and Latinx students.
We endorse the movement to “Occupy the Student debt” in its effort to cancel all student debt. Cancelling the debt requires the federal government to forgive all the student loans it owns (which constitute 90% of all student debt) and to buy out the private holders of student loans. For the same price as the 2017 Republican tax cuts (which were concentrated among the richest 10%), this policy would free 44 million Americans from their debt burdens and increase their ability to reap the economic benefits of college education. A recent study by Levy Economics Institute of Bard College also finds that cancelling the debt would have positive consequences for the economy by increasing the purchasing powers of 44 million people, which in turns spurs the consumption that contributes to economic growth.
Since Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign in 2016, the campaign for tuition-free public college education has spurred action at the state and local level. A growing number of cities and states already offer tuition-free access to community colleges. We call for the scaling of these efforts to the federal level so that all students have free access to a 4-year public college and university.
We call for $100 million national scholarship fund be established for indigenous and black students to be paid by colleges and universities that benefitted directly from slave labor and from federal land grants that were made possible through the expropriation of indigenous communities. These funds, independently administered by a reputable racial justice non-profit organization, would be distributed on a sliding scale based on need to black and indigenous students pursuing undergraduate degrees at 4-year institutions and community colleges. While elite private schools would contribute, all indigenous and black students would be eligible to receive an award and could attend an institution of their choice.