Debt Collective’s Message for NASFAA: Education Must Be Free!
This week, thousands of “financial aid” professionals from around the country gathered in New Orleans for the 2015 NASFAA National Conference. According to the official website, attendees experienced “a unique training and professional development opportunity that will equip student aid professionals with the tools they need to better serve students and families.”
Many students who have had their lives crippled by massive debt, especially attendees of for-profit schools such as the Art Institutes or Corinthian Colleges, know first-hand that these financial aid professionals aren’t actually “serving” students and families. Furthermore, they are well aware that “financial aid” often means high-interest private loans, or federal loans which will still take decades to pay off. Maybe the conference participants have actually tricked themselves into thinking that their job includes helping students, as they ate from their fancy clam buffet and marched in their own “private Mardi Gras” parade sponsored by philanthropic institutions such as Sallie Mae and Great Lakes.
However, while they take pictures in front of giant Wells Fargo wagons, and participate in conference sessions stating that the student loan crisis is a myth, millions of students are working multiple jobs to pay off their massive debt balances, and delaying major life events such as buying a car, a home, and even having a family. As these financial aid professionals party it up in the “Big Easy”, many of the students they have “helped” now realize that obtaining a higher education was the worst mistake of their lives.
Why would these people care though, look how much fun they are having:
Thumbs up for First Time attendees! #NASFAA2015 pic.twitter.com/OFBQda3RCt
— amy cable (@acaballr) July 21, 2015
Debt Collective, a project of Strike Debt, organized a clever PR stunt to highlight these issues which the exploitative student loan sharks love to ignore. First, they created a fake account for the conference, using handle: @NASFAA15, which claimed to include “Official tweets from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators conference in New Orleans.” Check out some of these tweets below:
[NOTE: There was a Twitter Timeline for @NASFAA15 but it appears the account has actually been suspended by Twitter]
Next, as the conference continued, they posted that Debt Collective’s proposal for free public education had won the Big Idea Policy Challenge:
Congrats to the Debt Collective for winning the Big Idea Policy Challenge! http://t.co/fIvyXeYX9H #nasfaa2015 #fachat pic.twitter.com/js8mz5Q1Rt
— nasfaa (@NASFAA15) July 20, 2015
Other accounts who were notified before the action also shared this great “news” on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, including our own Twitter account. Their plan, which you can view at HowFarToFree.org reveals that a free public education at two and four-year schools for every student in the country, would cost only $15 billion dollars. (To find out how they reached this number, check out Strike Debt’s full analysis). While this amount seems steep, it only represents 1% of the federal budget.
For comparison, check out how much we spend on our huge military compared to other industrialized nations:
Think about it: If we cut just a few percentage points from the federal military budget, every single public college and university would be tuition free! Still not convinced? Check out this graphic from HowFarToFree.org:
The issue isn’t that our country doesn’t have the money to support free education. Our tax money is being spent on corporate subsidies, defense spending, and the war on drugs which hurt, poison, and kill us. Meanwhile, education is increasingly treated like a market commodity rather than a human right.
Debt Collective brought even more attention to this later in the day, as the conference held a parade which they called a “private Mardi Gras”, complete with beads and music. Student debtors from Corinthian, Art Institutes, and other schools disrupted the festive event with chants such as “No cuts, No fees, Education must be free”. The protest was covered by The Guardian, Common Dreams, and Inside Higher Ed.
Check out this video from AJ+:
The protest was also livestreamed and if you have the time, I suggest checking it out:
. Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
This isn’t some sort of crazy utopian ideal. My parents went to CUNY for free. They graduated with no debt and were able to jumpstart their lives. Meanwhile, millennials today have so much debt that we have to struggle everyday just to keep living. This isn’t some natural order, we are being exploited by student loan lenders, the Department of Education, and by extension, the conference attendees themselves. This is only the beginning, we must rise up!
Check out more scenes from the parade below: