I need a dollar: free college and artificial scarcity

So the Million Student March was held in more than a hundred locations last week (UC San Diego had a march that I helped organize). #StudentBlackOut occurred today, as students of color added their own demands about representation in faculty, in the student body, and serious mandatory education on race for students, faculty, and administration. The larger social reaction to these movements and their demands indicates how narrow the debate is about social justice and investment in youth and people of color.

The reaction to the Million Student March- among conservatives and old ‘I paid my way through college working at the soda fountain’ liberals, is that there is no money for free education, and any more money into higher education will come from the pockets of hard-working Americans.

The debate is defined by artificial scarcity. Making higher education free is possibly the cheapest thing the United States could do to increase long-term GDP growth. The actual figure- somewhere between 62 and 40 billion a year – is a minuscule fraction of defense spending and could be met by canceling dumb ideas like the F-35 (1.45 trillion total projected cost), stop making equipment like tanks the military doesn’t even want, and not approving new dumb ideas.

Within the University of California system, senior administrative bloat, the product of a corporatized hierarchy where education went from the focus to a way to mine students for money to pay big salaries, is $1.1 billion a year total. The whole student population pays $3 billion, so over a third of their tuition is spent on excess administration!

Higher education is one of many programs put into a zero-sum bucket. More money is not coming from a financial transactions tax or cracking down on overseas stashes of corporate earnings (if Apple brought its cash hoard back into the US they would owe almost 60 billion in taxes– one year of free higher education by itself). Money comes from Medicaid, veteran’s benefits, food stamps, subsidized housing, and all the other non-university levels of education. As long as the scarcity is believed, then poor and vulnerable people fight with each other.

Immense wealth and immense poverty exists- both within and between countries. The political and economic elite has constructed an adversarial system where the only visible enemies are others just trying to survive. A 40 hour job is divided so that no one qualifies for benefits, and there are no stable hours and schedules. The conflict is kept at the individual level, so corporate profits and shareholder values are preserved.

quote-you-can-t-have-capitalism-without-racism-malcolm-x-47-65-18

With the Million Student March and the Mizzou movements converging, the question of economics versus identity has come to the forefront. When I went to a town hall meeting about campus racism and lack of diversity, I heard a lot of cutting personal stories. I heard about bigoted TAs, professors, and administrators. Racist publications and campus police. I did not hear about the system that benefits from racism and utilizes it- capitalism. The intersectionality of oppression is vital in any analysis of society, but ultimately the ruling class is that- a class. And it is its own mixture of race, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion. Oppression is itself not a zero-sum game- poor whites can be oppressed, albeit to different degrees and ways than people of color.

I’ll put it this way: when you leave an event, class, or debate, ask if the elite that control the police, military, and economy are glad that you didn’t mention them.

Sanders goes free-tuition, part of tiny sliver of leaders who have any sense

It’s good to see Bernie Sanders go beyond the liberal Congressional ideas about reducing loan rates and providing tax credits, calling for free tuition that would end the United States’ status as a dinosaur in college affordability and availability.

SFT logo. Created by Andrew J. Mackay
SFT logo. Created by Andrew J. Mackay

The group I’m a part of, Students for Free Tuition, is about real solutions in education. These planks of free education aren’t even radical- it’s just an attempt to get back to higher education of yesteryear, when it was more affordable, and government assistance came from grants and not loans.

There’s a frame of thinking that voting and political participation is low because people are stupid or duped. I think it’s more so that the tepid, halfway solutions proposed won’t work, and most people know that. Free tuition makes all the sense in the world.

Debt revolt: education is a human right

Written for an organization I help run, Students for Free Tuition, regarding the student debt strike of former for-profit college students in the defunct Corinthian system. 

For-profit Corinthian Colleges are defunct, but the debt of its once-students lives on, almost impossible to discharge- even in bankruptcy.

Fifteen students have formed a collective action to not repay their loans, citing the violations of student rights by the college network.

While this strike are tailored to the particular brutalities of for-profit education, the potential is much larger and can apply to all schools deliberately underfunded, privatized, and run in concert with student loan companies.

Of special interest is an unused but applicable clause with the Department of Education:

“The department, the senators noted, has the power to cancel federal loans for students who attended institutions that violated their rights. In fact, they pointed out, the department’s federal-loan agreements with students go as far as to spell this out, if in fine print: ‘In some cases, you may assert, as a defense against collection of your loan, that the school did something wrong or failed to do something that it should have done.’

Sources: College Board, California Post Secondary Education Commission from <http://keepcaliforniaspromise.org/314/is-privatization-a-national-trend-beyond-our-control&gt;

What is the University of California system and the Board of Regents, if not institutions that have failed to do what they should have?

Affording college should not be a carnival game

I’m somewhat disgusted from watching the college football conference championship games. Not the quality of the games- they were pretty engaging, and go Spartans- but the halftime contest between two people competing for college tuition money. The Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway had two contestants throwing footballs into a hole in a giant soda can to win $100,000 in scholarships.

I don’t have a problem with a corporation handing out some money for college- it’s certainly not the most destructive way to gain publicity, but it does feel strange that people in the United States have to compete for the right to graduate debt-free. One of the long-term threads to American prosperity, especially if that prosperity is to cross class lines, are people of all ages pursuing some form of post-secondary education. High tuition rates discourage poor and lower middle class students from applying at all. And America is rapidly losing its edge in overall attainment:

Credit to The Century Foundation

And struggle in STEM majors:

STEM Graduation Rates1 600x486 The U.S. STEM Graduation Rate Is Very Low Compared To Other Countries

I’ve previously written a detailed speech on the idea of free tertiary education in America, which you can read here. It seems that intelligent and perceptive people should focus on learning, and not fret over balance sheets unless they take an accounting class.