Graduation is stressful, especially when you walk across that stage unemployed and drowning in student debt. For most, it’s inevitable. But while you can’t control what employer’s think about you, you can control your student loans, contrary to popular belief.
In an article written by Vice last year around graduation, writer Jennifer Schaffer sat down with NYU professor Andrew Ross, one of the founders of Occupy Student Debt and Strike Debt, a member of the Debt Collective, and general advocate for debtors’ rights and debtors’ unions.
Ross shed light on what things would be like if post-grads collectively ditched their student loans and sacrificed their credit scores in hopes of a better, more wealthy tomorrow. Sounds glorious, right? According to Ross, the movement has already started individually.
If you look at the rates of student debt default, one in three student debtors are in default. So it’s already happening on a mass basis. It’s just happening individually, so you don’t necessarily see any political impact. But millions of students are in this predicament, and they simply can’t pay back their debts, even if they wanted to. It’s not a question of meeting your responsibilities: These people simply cannot pay back their debts and will never be able to. So we are in that kind of situation as a society where we have turned higher education into the cruelest of debt traps. It should be a social good. It should be a social right, in my opinion. And it’s turned into the cruelest of debt traps from which only students from well-heeled families can escape.
Now, in the Occupy Student Debt campaign we had set a goal of finding 1 million students who would agree to collectively default, back in 2011. We didn’t get anywhere near those numbers for all sorts of reasons, but 1 million student debtors did actually default that year. They just did so individually; if they’d collectively defaulted as we had planned, then we would be having a different conversation. We’d have had a political impact. And that’s why we decided after several years to start much smaller. We started the Debt Collective with a much smaller group, but we’ve already had quite an impact with that small group, these 100 or so students who went on debt strike.
Joining Debt Collective sounds like a pretty good idea if you’re thinking about opting out of paying off those loans. Can anyone really ignore a group of 50,000 angry college graduates? Based on this years’ campus protests alone, I’m going to say no.
So what should people do? Ross elaborates,
What kind of political result do you think is actually feasible, if millions of students stop paying their loans?
A strike of any kind is a tactic. It’s not a solution. It’s a tactic towards a goal, and the goal here ultimately is for the US to join the long list of industrialized countries around the world that make it their business to offer a free public higher education system. None of these other countries are as affluent as the US; there’s no question that this country could afford to do so. In fact, we produced an estimate not that long ago about how cheap it would be for the federal government to cover tuition at all two and four-year colleges. There are several estimates in circulation, and a few years ago that kind of proposal was dismissed out of hand. But now we’re beginning to see it pop up on Capitol Hill in various forms. It’s a proposal that’s part of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president. It’s a proposal that pushed President Obama in the direction of making community colleges free, at least for two years. It’s becoming a little more respectable to talk about [solutions for student debt], on Capitol Hill and in the public sphere in general. None of that would have happened without a student debt resistance.
He also noted that organizing these groups is key in order to succeed. So should you consider this alternative? If you’re able to get the rest of your graduating class behind you, then possibly. Is the plan worth sacrificing the opportunity to ever buy a house? Or the possibility of having to pay even more money if things don’t work out? That’s up to you.
If all else fails, you can always move to Europe with the other disgruntled American students.