SLAC Calls Forum on Student Rights, Debt and Labor

Zach Crowell

To the Editors:

There is a generational crisis waiting to happen in the United States of America. Compared to the rest of the developed world, the United States has one of the highest rate of child poverty, one of the lowest levels of economic mobility and the highest private costs of education and healthcare. Collectively, Americans hold one trillion-plus dollars in student debt. This is probably not a shock to those of you who are attending a $60,000 per-year college. However, it’s generally a fraction of the cost to attend a top-ranked school in Europe. The unnecessarily high cost of education here has prevented far too many children of low- and middle-income families from making the most of their abilities. Inequality in this country has become so high that the biggest predictor of a person’s income is her parents’ income. Our high rates of child poverty, our public schools designed to benefit most those living in wealthy neighborhoods and our skyrocketing tuition rates are combining to create a generation cheated of its potential. Let’s not forget the effects the world’s largest prison system has had on our generation. This way of going about business is not only economic suicide, but is intolerably unjust.

Yet, the picture isn’t any rosier for those trying to enter the workforce. A total of 8.8 million jobs were lost during the recession. Only a fraction of that has been added back, and a disproportionate number are low-wage service jobs. Workers were also putting off retirement to make up for ruined investments and to retain health insurance. This means recent graduates continue to face higher-than-normal unemployment rates and are being forced to accept low-wage jobs while still holding tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Job prospects are much worse for those without a degree. And those who do have a job have faced stagnant wages since 1980, while any income gains are gobbled up by the increased costs of healthcare and raising a child.

It should not only be a national priority but a priority here at Oberlin to find ways to provide quality education at accessible cost. Oberlin likes to pride itself on historically being at the forefront of pushing for social change; we should have no excuse then to not spearhead this effort. We shouldn’t pretend that increasing our already-generous levels of financial aid is enough.  Rather, this is a call for structural change. Students should have more say in the financial decisions that affect us. This process can only start if the College becomes more transparent with the costs and burdens that fall on the student body.

That is why on May 1, International Workers’ Day, Student Labor Action Coalition is hosting an open discussion on student rights, debt and labor. It is open to everyone and will take place from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. in front of the AJLC. There will be food and fun provided during the first hour. Our economic and political structures are currently failing us, and no outside actor will change them for us.

Zach Crowell
Co-chair of SLAC and junior Economics major