Economic crisis devastates students: Fight-back strategy needed
Posted by raleighfist on September 18, 2009
By Julie Fry
Students returning to school this fall face a devastating new reality. Along with the usual back-to-school jitters, students must cope with the massive budget cuts, higher tuition rates, and decreased financial aid affecting campuses across the country. On top of all of this, those students who manage to scrape together the extra funds necessary to graduate face a terribly bleak job market when they leave their campuses.
Faced with tens of billions of dollars in budget deficits for this fiscal year, most states have cut deep into their education spending to cover their costs. Thirty-five states have already cut higher education spending and/or increased tuition. The cuts have been particularly hard on students of color, who disproportionately rely on state universities and community colleges for access to higher education.
The effects of these cuts are startling. For example, in California, a state that almost went bankrupt this year from its huge budget deficits, state funding to all levels of education has been cut by billions of dollars. The cuts mean fewer teachers, bigger classrooms and school closings all over the state. For many college students, the cuts put higher education practically out of reach. Once considered a national model for publicly funded higher education, the University of California and California State University systems are raising tuition and student fees, cutting classes, furloughing professors and enrolling thousands fewer students to compensate for the state-imposed cuts.
The California State University system—the largest four-year university system in the country—plans to cut enrollment by 40,000 students over the next two years and raise student fees by 32 percent. The California Community college system is raising fees by 30 percent and slashing course offerings. The Los Angeles County Community College District canceled its entire summer session this year and other colleges are cutting hundreds of courses.
As Chris Morales, a Cal State University student who is the first in his family to go to college, told the Associated Press, “The fee increase is going to be tough for me and other students because it’s hard for students to get jobs. … My mother doesn’t make enough money to pay for my college education. She has three other children.” (Aug. 5)
Morales faces the same reality as millions of others starting this school year with an increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible system of higher education, and little hope of finding a job to make up the difference in an economy where the official unemployment rate is in double digits in many areas, including California. For youth aged 16-19 years old who are seeking work, the official unemployment rate is more than 20 percent.
Even financial aid and student loans, often relied on by students to overcome the astronomical cost of a college education in the U.S., are becoming scarce. Since March of 2008, more than 100 lenders have suspended their participation in federally backed fixed-rate student loan programs—programs that typically provide low-interest loans to students. Many states have drastically cut or completely shut down their student loan and grant programs, taking away billions of dollars in aid for higher education.
What can students do?
Many students are wondering whether these drastic cuts in public education funding are really as necessary and inevitable as many politicians claim. How is it, for example, that the federal government was able to come up with trillions of dollars to bail out failed banks, while at the same time refusing to offer just the few billion dollars it would take to shore up the country’s needy higher education institutions? As students return to their more expensive, less functional campuses, they are wondering why they are being forced to pay the price for the economic crisis caused by the world’s largest banks.
Students at some campuses have already begun to create fight-back strategies. At the City University of New York—a school that endured millions of dollars in cuts in this year’s state budget—students joined with professors to protest the attacks against their school last spring. Hundreds of CUNY students participated in demonstrations and walk-outs against the proposed state budget, and more actions are planned for this school year. Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST) is an active participant in the CUNY Campaign to Defend Education, a coalition that fights for an immediate rollback of all tuition hikes and for open admission and free tuition at all CUNY campuses.
All over the country, students are beginning to come together and strategize about how to push back against these cuts and win the right to a free education instead. Students will be joining with workers in Pittsburgh during the week of Sept. 20 to protest the G-20 summit—a gathering of the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations who are meeting to decide how to further protect banks and corporations during the economic crisis, with no discussion of how to protects students or workers.
Organizers of the protest against the G-20 are planning a March for Jobs on Sunday, Sept. 20 to demand a jobs program at a living wage. This is a critical demand for students who more and more face increased debt and diminished job prospects upon graduation. The Bail Out the People Movement (of which FIST is a member) is planning an entire week of activities during the G-20, all in support of a people’s agenda that would prioritize demands such as cancelling student debt, rolling back tuition hikes and cut-backs, a national jobs program, and other important needs.
Organizers of the demonstrations see the G-20 protests as the start of a national struggle to unite workers and students and demand that the bailout money for the banks be used for a people’s agenda that will make jobs and education a priority.