(The Blaze/AP) — Traditionally, college graduation caps bear messages to Mom or shoutouts to professors and friends. But this year, some students are protesting their looming debt at commencement by using their hats to show the amount in loans they owe.
At the University of Colorado in Boulder on Friday, Daniel Schwartz, who helps organize Occupy events, said some students also sported inflatable ball and chains in addition to the decorated caps. The effort is in part to bring attention to rising student loan debt, which recently surpassed credit card and auto loan debt with some estimates putting the total at $1 trillion.
Supporters —which include Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen, MoveOn.org, and "Rebuild the Dream"— say it's a way to silently protest the rising costs of education without interrupting the ceremony for others and their families.
The movement, dubbed Occupy Graduation, is shipping plastic ball and chains to at least six universities around the country including San Francisco State, Hunter College in New York City, George Washington University and the University of North Carolina. Of the 200 inflatable ball and chains that have been shipped so far, about 50 were sent to Colorado.
One of the videos on their site compares student loans to STD's (Warning: some strong language):
Cohen —who has offered support to the Occupy movement— said he was approached with the idea to offer inflatable ball and chains to college graduates about a month ago. It came from Adam Nelson, who works for a public relations firm that offered pro-bono public relations services in Occupy Wall Street's early days and who shared his own struggle with student loans.
Soon after, Cohen's assistant began looking on the Internet to order shipments of the ball and chain to send out to customers. When they didn't find enough of them to buy, Cohen's office began crafting their own.
The kits include black beach balls, inflatable chains and duct tape. A 10-pack sells for $25.
The effectiveness of the silent protest with regard to student loan debt has yet to be seen. Cohen believes "this message and this symbol is really gathering steam in terms of this issue."
Cohen himself, however, can't share the same personal struggle with paying back student debt.
"I dropped out of a few colleges," Cohen said.
Another video on the site is labeled "Debt Sentence" (Warning: Some language):
According to the Occupy Graduation site, the protesters want:
Tuition-Free Public Higher Education
The single, largest step we could take to alleviate future student loan debt would be to guarantee tuition-free education for students enrolled at public colleges and universities. In the case of systems in California and New York that were formerly free, this would be a restoration of the status quo. For others, it would be a restoration of the spirit of the GI Bill, which provided a free college education to tens of millions, and established U.S. higher education as a democratic gold standard worldwide. According to a recent estimate, drawn from Department of Education data, the cost of covering tuition at all the nation’s two- and four-year colleges and universities would be about $70 billion. Put in the perspective of the federal budget, a recent audit found that the Pentagon “wastes” this sum in unaccountable spending every year. Ending the Bush tax cuts ($80 billion annually) would easily cover this cost.
Zero-Interest Student Loans
Student loans are not consumer loans, and they should not be packaged as if they were consumer credit debt. At a time when a university degree is considered to be a prerequisite for employment in the knowledge economy, debt, for most students, is a precondition for entry into the workforce. They cannot work unless they have gone into debt–a condition akin to indenture. This arrangement does not correspond in any meaningful way to a consumer choice. Zero-interest student loans are the only justifiable kind of lending under these circumstances. The current scenario, in which government agencies, banks, and other private lenders set extortionate rates and extract lavish profits is corrupt and abhorrent.
Private Colleges Must Open Their Books
Students at private and for-profit universities and colleges have a fundamental right to know how their tuition dollars are being allocated and spent. These institutions are fiscally dependent on student loan debt, they enjoy a tax-free status, and they are beneficiaries of federal largesse in all sorts of ways. Withholding information about the conduct of their fiscal affairs is a violation of the ethos of shared governance and transparency that liberal institutions like universities should be promoting, and practicing.
Student Debt Written Off In The Spirit of Jubilee
The student loan industry has profited from borrower vulnerability through predatory lending practices such as compounding interest rates, high collection fees, and few consumer protections. Inflating tuition costs have been financed through student debt that will soon exceed 1 trillion dollars. The morality of perpetuating this unjust system by continuing to pay these predatory loans is questionable. In times of fuller employment, the student loan debt system has yielded no end of private suffering and humiliation for at least two generations of debtors. In a time of chronic underemployment–and the worst may be yet to come–the burden is beyond tolerance. Immediate forgiveness in the spirit of a jubilee, where the injustice of an unpayable debt is redeemed through a single, corrective act, is the only just response to this crisis.