Education Is A Right, Not A Commodity

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PHOTO: Students peacefully protesting in solidarity with the Occupy Movement are pepper sprayed by University Police at the University of California at Davis. November 18, 2011

All around the country, traditionally “bad” neighborhoods have been gentrifying, but not because of any government policy—because an entire generation is being priced out of the middle class.

This last Thursday, a Republican-led House voted to raise interest on student loans and allow them to fluctuate far higher than car or home loan rates. Our Federal economic policies have turned our most basic rights into commodities they can sell back to us at a premium with interest. We have somehow been told to believe also that an education should be a personal investment, rather than an investment made by a society that wishes to remain competitive in a globalized economy.

My generation, the Millennial Generation, is being set up for failure to prop up corporate profiteers. We are doomed to follow in the steps of Japan’s lost generation, but far more dramatically.

Millennials: A term used in pundrity to generalize the traits of all people born between the late 1970s and the year 2000.

Here are some facts about Millennials:

In the fall of 2004, I began a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations (IR) at San Francisco State University. After my first IR class it became apparent to me the field of IR was one of gloom and doom, one that perpetually discussed all the depressing impacts of globalization and governmental corruption but offered no viable solutions except studying IR more so you can teach to a choir of depressed kids for the rest of your life. So, being green and idealistic, I switched to Journalism where I believed I could actually make a difference in my work.

Professor after professor, while teaching us valuable skills for the modern journalist, constantly reinforced the reality newspapers were becoming a thing of the past and not one of us graduating with a journalism degree should expect to get a full-time job in journalism. In fact, I can only think of two of the 40 or so classmates I had become acquainted with who actually landed a traditional journalism job. When I started college, the cost of a degree at a California State University was just $800 a semester and $3,000 by the time I graduated in 2007. Today, tuition at a California State University,  which was once world-renowned for its quality education funded entirely by the state taxpayer is $5,500 and rising. That’s a 680% rise in less than a decade.

I became a professionally degreed bartender, much like every other San Francisco bartender, and decided the best investment was to wait out the recession getting a Master’s degree and upping my market viability. I now face five-figure student loan debt–not bad compared to the six figures or so many of my friends are facing.

More high school graduates are going to college than ever before, and it’s not because our public school systems have gotten any better. Due to domestic labor laws designed to protect American workers, and foreign laws designed to exploit whole populations, the U.S. has evolved from a manufacturing-based economy to an information and technology-based economy. More high school graduates are going to college because they are less likely to find a career in unskilled labor substantial enough to survive.

As droves of Millennials enrolled in colleges, an economic recession forced spending cuts at all levels of government. As usual, education got cut first while private sector profiteering got and continues to get the bulk of government subsidies (ie: the banks, private prisons, war contractors, oil companies and the DEA). The price of a college education soared astronomically, and we were handed easy money to cover the balance. We had no choice, not unless we wanted to work minimum wage and take government handouts the rest of our lives.

Today, 60% of students take loans, all of which have higher interest rates than car and home loans, and contribute to a $900 billion a year industry.  This industry has become a boon to bankers and college bureaucrats alike who now have been exposed for profiting twice off students by owning stock in major college lenders like Sallie Mae while simultaneously raising tuition. Want to take bets on anyone doing jail time?

And on top of all that, we are making less money than generations before us.


The rate of college tuition vs. overall inflation.

I actually had an HR manager tell me a few months ago the main reason I was hired is because in these economic hard times a young, over-educated person like me is a great way to get high-skilled labor on the cheap and there was no intention to ever promote me or give me a raise because there is a glut of people just like me out there to exploit, paraphrased of course. A quick look around the office showed a set of Baby Boomers going to lunches and meetings while we pulled our hair out teaching them how to use simple technology like Outlook calendars and printers for less than half the pay they were making. Need I mention I was higher skilled and more educated than many of my superiors? All my peers had student loan debt they were struggling to pay and probably never would.

When we take these jobs on the cheap, usually because we have no other choice, we are entering the professional job market at a lower wage and therefore setting ourselves up to make far less money over the course of our entire lifetimes:

“Kahn worries the same pattern is repeating itself. And new research from the Urban Institute augurs this emerging income gap is compounding into a wealth gap. The institute’s research shows that even as the country has grown richer, Generations X and Y, meaning people up to about age 40, have amassed less wealth than their parents had when they were young. The average net worth of someone 29 to 37 has fallen 21 percent since 1983; the average net worth of someone 56 to 64 has more than doubled. Thirty or 40 years from now, young Millennials might face shakier retirements than their parents. For the first time in modern memory, a whole generation might not prove wealthier than the one that preceded it.”

-Anne Lowry, New York Times

What’s worse is because we have turned a college education into an economic commodity rather than viewing one as an investment in our future economic strength, we no longer produce enough high-tech workers domestically to feed our technology boom. We import high-tech labor.

It was in this frame of mind that the Occupy Movement was born.

We tried electing politicians to save us. People my age were key in getting Barack Obama elected. Back in 2008, I was overwhelmingly enthused to vote for him. I even bought a bottle of Patron for all the customers at the bar I worked at when they announced he had clinched the nomination. Well you live, you learn, you get tear gassed. While covering the police violence shutting down Occupy Oakland in 2011 (which cost the City $2.4 million and involved non-fatally shooting an Iraq veteran in the head with a rubber bullet), I ended up near a can spewing tear gas. I took cover behind a bus stop with other young journalists or friends I had run into on the street. Our eyes were burning and someone across the street held up a jug of water, signaling to us we could use it to flush out our eyes. As the girl next to me ran across the street to get it, rubber bullets flew her direction. She was carrying a notepad and a camera.


Then 25-year-old Iraq veteran Scott Olsen, after being struck in the head by Oakland Police while peacefully protesting alongside Occupy Oakland.

Are average American citizens really ok with their children getting shot at by police for peacefully utilizing our most fundamental rights as American citizens? The right to question those we elect to lead us?

Putting money or support behind any politician is useless in this country. You vote with your dollar. You vote with your dollar because every dime you spend on every stupid little thing you buy throughout the day funds somebody’s lobbyists, the true policy makers in Washington. Might as well fund the special interests you agree with, right?

Which is why we need to solve this problem by becoming a special interest. We need to buy our own politicians to fight for us. Unlike any other generation before us, we have the ability to exchange information at a faster rate than ever before. We are also getting older, old enough to take over, to take control.

The difference today and the difference between us and Japan’s Lost Generation is when you enslave people through student-loan debt you create a highly educated proletariat smart enough to know they are being fucked.

Here is what you can do:

  • Meet back up with your local Occupy Movement. The camps are gone but the problems aren’t.
  • Brainstorm non-occupation methods to get the word out, make sure to put someone reliable in charge of PR and media relations. Press release the shit out of any action you do. Come on, I bet there are plenty of you with Journalism degrees that could manage this task!
  • Sign petitions demanding equal treatment to the major banks that caused these problems, share them with personal messages to your friends and family. Here is a good one to sign and share:
  • Talk about it with everyone. Do not be vitriolic (like I just was) but use logic and reason, talk about it with your parents, your grandparents, strangers, neighbors and friends.
  • Most importantly. Make sure ‘the hood’ is a good place for all of us to live. Take this opportunity to learn more about each other and join forces. We all share the same special interest—of the 99%.