Education is a human right, but those in power continue to treat it as a commodity and a luxury available only to the wealthy few. Over the past 30 years, having a college degree has become more and more necessary to achieve even a basic level of economic security. Yet, during this time, federal and state governments have slashed public education spending, tuition has skyrocketed to previously unimaginable numbers, and institutions of higher education have becoming increasingly dedicated to padding the pockets of their upper administrators and corporations.
The cost of higher education has outpaced inflation by nearly 400%. Scholarships and financial aid have dwindled under austerity measures. The Pell Grant, which covered about 80% of all attendance costs for students 40 years ago, now covers barely 30%. Today, students face low wages for campus work, exorbitant prices for housing and dining services, and a lack of resources for first generation students, students with disabilities, and students dealing with mental health, sexual assault, and poverty.
Undocumented students are met with constant fear of deportation and lack of access to financial support, and are often unable to even apply for aid. And those who clear these barriers and reach graduation find themselves lost in a workforce where wages have remained stagnant and unionized labor is at a historic low.
Education profiteers like loan providers, hedge funds, and the federal government benefit from exploiting low-income students, women, and students of color, who carry a disproportionately large amount of student loan debt. Students of color face a higher risk of defaulting on their loans, and struggle to find jobs to pay off these loans due to discrimination in hiring practices. For women, ⅔ of the $1.48 trillion total of student debt will be on their heads, and the burden of this debt will be intensified post graduation by the gender pay gap.
Many students of color, first generation students, poor and working class students, students who are parents, and disabled students enter institutions to find them not just unwilling but truly hostile when it comes to shifting resources away from predatory policing and corporate investments towards the resources that students really need.
The higher education system is a major force in economic, racial, and gender inequality that pads the pockets of corporations and the ultra-wealthy. This must change.