Student Debt and Capitalism

Education Is A Right, Not A Privilege

College, in the popular imagination, is still seen as both a time of freedom & intellectual exploration, and as the gateway to future economic opportunity. Yet young people today are increasingly working harder & taking on debt just to get a degree whose value is becoming more questionable. At the same time, universities are increasingly being subordinated to the needs of the corporate world. It hasn’t always been this way and needn’t always be this way. We suggest that in addition to being an important part of fighting for social justice & equality, a high-quality & accessible public education system can be part of the fight for a world which is not based on exploitation and economic inequality - a world beyond capitalism.

The Crisis of Higher Education

More and more Americans start college - but the costs of that education are rising, while the returns fall. The percentage of 30 year-olds who hold a B.A. has remained stubbornly at 25 percent since the late 1970s, though every other advanced democracy has significantly increased its university graduation rate. In addition, from 1981- 2010 college tuition-and fees have risen 7% every year – more than double the rate of overall inflation, 3%. Overall, college tuition and fees have quadrupled in real terms from 1982 to 2007. Additionally, federal financial aid, which used to be 80% grant based, is now 80% loan based.

Today, the average student will graduate with almost $20,000 in student loan debt just for an undergraduate degree. But in the midst of our current economic crisis, having a degree no longer guarantees a good job. Unemployment among college graduates under the age of 25 is above 10%; and employers hired 22% fewer college graduates from the class of 2009 than they did from the class of 2008.

For people of color & women, the crisis of higher education is particularly visible. For example Blacks are much more likely to take on debt above $30,500 at 27% compared to 16% of white students at that level. That is especially problematic since the unemployment rate for people of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, is still significantly higher than for whites.

And for poor and working class whites and people of color, college is only accessible with huge loans and working long hours while in school. Others forgo school entirely; each year more than 400,000 qualified students fail to attend a four-year college due to financial costs.

Education and Capitalism

In modern capitalist America, education serves two purposes: providing workers & product ideas for the capitalists, and shrinking the labor force, which helps to alleviate the lack of decent jobs provided by capitalism.

The corporate funding of research at universities has led to the creation of information that is useful, but not accessible to the public, or profitable products that are not necessarily useful (such as prescription drugs to replace generics). The funneling of corporate money into research – and cuts in state funding of research -- represents a fundamental flaw in our current education system.

Education & Socialist Vision

While it was capitalism’s need for an educated workforce that gave rise to universal public general education, the ideal of education as inherently valuable challenges the logic of the capitalist market.

Too often, public debate over education accepts a flawed premise: that schools should primarily be designed to prepare people to work. The idea that education can provide people the intellectual tools to be involved and informed citizens - even citizens of a capitalist democracy - is being steadily undermined.

The debate over what our schools should be is part of a larger debate over what kind of society we want to live in. Starting with the GI Bill after World War II through the early 1970s our society made a political commitment to make higher education accessible to the working class. We have moved away from that ideal, not because it was a failure but because there has been a political and ideological shift in this country away from the idea that education can serve a purpose other than to promote & sustain capitalism.

Even in its embattled state, higher education holds out the promise of an alternative to the cutthroat competition, authoritarian world structure, and inhuman motivations of the corporate world. For that reason alone, it is worth defending. 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
· 38 rsvps

Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 49 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 93 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 26 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 13 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.