The call for the abolition of all student debt has never been louder—but how did we get to a place where this demand is possible? Latino USA dives into the history of the student loan system in the U.S, as well as the stories of Black and Latino organizers that have been at the forefront of the movement for student debt cancellation.

The history of the student loan system in the U.S goes back a couple of decades. 

“We switched to student loans at the exact moment that low income people, Black and brown communities were enrolling” said Dr. Jalil Mustaffa Bishop, a professor of education at Villanova University and leading researcher in anti-racism and student loan policy. 

He said that before the civil rights movement, higher education in the United States was federally funded on a grant-based system. But there was backlash from politicians who wanted to reduce government spending on social programs, just as more students of color demanded admission and representation in universities. Eventually, government funding decreased and the burden of paying for a college education shifted to students and their families. 

The creation of the student loan system not only impacted students, it also created an ecosystem where private corporations could profit from this debt. One of those corporations was Corinthian Colleges Inc.—a company that operated for-profit colleges that explicitly targeted low-income students of color for their expensive programs. In 2010 Corinthian operated 105 campuses all over the country.

That same year, Nathan Hornes came across a TV ad for Everest College, a for-profit school part of the Corinthian Colleges Inc. network. Everest caught his attention because the campus was close by where he lived in Los Angeles and because the school made obtaining a college degree feel accessible. So he enrolled. And although the financial aid officer told him his tuition would be paid through grants, Nathan later learned that he owed $68,000 in student loans that the school took out without his consent.

“Nobody knew about the loans, we didn’t know about the loans until 6 months before the loans were due,” said Nathan. 

Through sharing his experience with friends, Nathan realized he wasn’t alone. He created a Facebook group for former Everest College students and found hundreds of other students who shared his experience. Many of these students were low income, struggling to find work with their Everest College diploma and would now have to devote decades of their life to paying off thousands of dollars in debt. 

As Nathan learned more about how the for-profit school giant operated, he also realized that the issue went beyond these fraudulent schools. He said the student loan system was to blame. So Nathan, with the Debt Collective, joined what some say is the nation’s first student debt strike in February of 2015. This movement challenged the student loan system and aimed to change the narrative around student loan debt. 

“Many of those folks already weren’t paying their student loans because they couldn’t afford to,” said Hannah Appel, an organizer with the Debt Collective. “But they were suffering the consequences alone. So what if they all said, ‘Not only can we not pay as individuals, but we affirmatively collectively assert that we won’t pay because this debt is fraudulent.’”

In this episode, Latino USA follows the story of the historic student debt strike, looking at how their efforts have shaped current organizing to abolish student debt. We also meet students who are still organizing and ask why canceling student debt is an issue of racial economic justice.

Featured image courtesy of AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File.

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2 thoughts on “The Growing Call to Abolish Student Debt

  1. I’m a 70 year old liberal white guy.
    I have no problem with forgiving the debt of students from the for profits colleges. All of those students got screwed. But I have a major problem with forgiving debt from traditional non profit and state schools. Yes we all want to have a good life, a house, a car etc. And yes college MAY!!! help you get all that. But if you can not afford to go to college then you’d better choose another route. Yes that is harsh and it sucks but that’s life. I have no doubt that most black and brown, white, red etc. students have smart phones which means they have a world of information in their hands to research if they will be able to afford to pay back the loans. And I submit if they can’t research that topic then maybe college is beyond them. That’s harsh, but that’s life. It’s your life, do the research BEFORE you sign.
    The thing that really bothered me about the last bit of the broadcast was that loans (not the for profit stuff) should be forgiven because things are hard and have been traditionally been hard for black and brown people. NO. That’s playing the race card no matter how you look at it. A woman takes out a loan so she can have a nice house and car and now she can not pay the loan back. Her choice to get the loan no matter what color she is. A student takes out a loan and graduates with a massive debt their job can not support, their choice. Their mistake. Believe me I want poor people to make it, be able to buy nice stuff AND to become TAXPAYERS!!! I hate policies that contribute to poverty ie aggressive policing. BUT people must be responsible for their actions. If you can’t afford you don’t buy it!
    One other thing. I was an architectural millworker. 100 degree shops in the summer etc. After my second back disc surgery I bought a computer, and a friend put AutoCAD, a massive drafting program on it. I bought 1500 pages of books and learned the program. I worked at the mill during the day and at the computer at night. It took a while but I got a sit down job drafting. Cost $5000.00. Computers cost a fortune in 1989.
    Everything can be found on the internet for free. Buy Excel, Word or what ever and sit down and learn it. Question?? Press F1. Why pay thousands of dollars for the same information. Work with Grammerly to learn how to write. Why go thousands into debt when you can get the skills on line. Learn to read. Learn to write. Learn to think. Learn to figure it out, whatever it is.
    Some where we have come to believe you need college to be educated. Rubbish. My God if I’d had the internet as a kid…..
    Note: I’m a regular listener.

    1. I think the college debt crisis is the lack of understanding on how debt can be used effectively. I took out loans to go to college, best investment I have and will ever make. Allowed me to increase my earning potential 10 fold.
      I cringe when well meaning people assume debt is evil, like any useful tool it can be dangerous, but if understood, used responsibly, it can be incredibly powerful.

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