Screw U.: College Loans a Rallying Point in Current Protests

“The collection fees are very, very high and it’s actually more profitable for banks if students default,” he continued. “Why education should be a vehicle for this is beyond all credibility in a democracy.”

On the university side, the increased focus on the problem of student loans spurred by Occupy Wall Street has put some of New York City’s most venerated institutions of higher education in a rather uncomfortable spotlight. David Van Zandt, the president of the New School, was an early responder to the Occupy movement, sending a message to students, faculty and staff that “our academic values dictate that legal, peaceful demonstration furthers key educational goals” and organizing a university-wide “teach-in.”

Brian Connolly, a spokesman for Columbia, responded to our query by saying “Columbia announced a large expansion of financial aid in 2008 and discontinued student loans.” He did not respond to our second query about graduate loans, which were not discontinued under the expansion of financial aid.

Another aspect of student loans is that, contrary to what happens in taking out a mortgage, admissions officers rarely advise that students do not have the financial capacity to take them on. In an email, John Beckman, a spokesman at N.Y.U,, responded to our query about whether the university ever advises applicants not to attend it because of the debt burden: “Our financial aid advisers are not financial planners, but they provide families with information to help them understand the financial implications of attendance,” he wrote. “Still, this conversation has to be undertaken respectfully and thoughtfully: one cannot simply put up a barrier to students and their families because they have to borrow to attend school—borrowing has been part of going to college or graduate school for a long time.”

The question that Occupy Wall Street is raising, however, is, will that change?

“Push will come to shove when students stop going to college,” said Mark Taylor, a professor of religion at Columbia and author of a controversial 2009 New York Times opinion article called “End the University as We Know It.” He has advocated for controversial moves such as cutting athletic programs.

“Colleges are going to have to come clean on what it is that they’re selling,” he said. “They’re not simply selling education. They’re marketing the brand whose value may be declining.”

One person who has appeared to be somewhat affected by the dominance of the debate over student loans at Occupy Wall Street, as well as a petition in circulation advocating for student loan forgiveness, is President Obama. Last week, as part of a series of executive orders, he announced an expansion of the Income Based Repayment plan that will allow students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income starting next year. The plan will forgive the balance of federal student loans after 20 years of payments, but it applies only to students who took at least one of their loans out in 2012 or later. The program currently in place assists borrowers whose debt burden exceeds their income, but students with private loans have no such assistance.

“What’s been going on at Occupy Wall Street and with the petition from the forgive-student-loan-debt people did catch the White House’s attention,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of the websites FinAid and Fastweb. Mr. Kantrowitz painted a bleak picture of the future, however, saying he was pessimistic Congress would ever make higher education a priority, despite evidence he says shows federal income tax payments from increased earnings more than repay the cost of giving students grants.

“What we’ve got here is, in a way, all about greed,” he lamented. “One group wants to see federal spending cut so they can preserve their tax cuts. Another group wants all their student loan debt forgiven. Corporations have their own agenda. So you have corporate greed, you have personal greed and nothing in all this is being driven by policy thinking.”


  1. Jane says:

    Art doesn’t pay.  Why did she take classes in art?  And expect to get a job?  

    1. Rachel Braun says:

      Where does it say that her major was painting, sculpture, printmaking, or any other fine arts major? I go to MassArt, so I got an e-mail (We get e-mails with the subject “MassArt in the News” every now and then) with a link to this article and it said “Angela Gelso, Industrial Design ’08, is quoted about her participation in Occupy Wall Street. The article examines the growing problem of student loans in higher education , among other issues being protested.”
      I think the article should of said what her degree is in, because once I saw that it didn’t say that, I was thinking “Oh my god, people are going to think she was a fine arts major and that she is stupid for thinking she could get a job.”

    2. mom says:

      Why should someone spend their life doing something they hate?

  2. Crock Tease says:

    I keep hearing a lot of rallying cries for forgiveness of student debt, and even though I’m behind the general philosophy of Occupy Wall street, this particular idea chills me to the bone.

    Why? Because I did not apply for student loans. I didn’t think I’d be able to handle the debt with my major and my expected pay. I ended up dropping out of school due mainly to lack of funds.

    If loans get forgiven, then that would mean I could have gone to school and had my debt magically disappear. If that happens, someone owes me an education –one I could have had if I had made a non-forward-thinking choice.

  3. Anonymous says:

    University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau hijack’s
    our kids’ futures. I love University
    of California (UC) having been a student & lecturer. But today I am
    concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many I am
    deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of Regent Chairwoman Lansing,
    President Yudof, Chancellor Birgeneau from holding the line on rising costs
    & tuition increases. Paying more is not a better education.

    Californians are
    reeling from 19% unemployment (includes: those forced to work part time; those
    no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those
    who still have jobs are working longer for less. Faculty
    wages must reflect California’s
    ability to pay, not what others are paid.

    Current pay increases
    for generously paid University
    of California Faculty is
    arrogance. Instate tuition consumes 14% of Ca. Median Family Income!

    Paying more is not a
    better education. UC Berkeley(# 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed the
    national average rate of increases. Chancellor Birgeneau has molded Cal. into the most
    expensive public university.

    UC President Yudof, Cal.
    Chancellor Birgeneau($450,000 salary) dismissed many much needed cost-cutting
    options. They did not consider freezing vacant faculty positions, increasing
    class size, requiring faculty to teach more classes, doubling the time between
    sabbaticals, cutting & freezing pay & benefits for chancellors &
    reforming pensions & the health benefits.

    They said such
    faculty reforms “would not be healthy for UC”. Exodus of faculty,
    administrators? Who can afford them and where would they go?

    We agree it is far
    from the ideal situation, but it is in the best interests of the university
    system & the state to stop cost increases. UC cannot expect to do business
    as usual: raising tuition; granting pay raises & huge bonuses during a weak
    economy that has sapped state revenues & individual Californians’ income.

    There is no
    question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful. Regent Chairwoman Lansing can bridge the public trust
    gap with reassurances that salaries & costs reflect California’s ability to pay. The sky above UC will not fall when Chancellor Birgeneau is ousted.


    Opinions? Email the UC Board
    of Regents




  4. Anonymous says:

    Great article. Have learned from it. Thanks a lot! :)