Student Debt: Students Demand Change from Oregon Board of Higher Education

Photo by Paul

By Eric Coker

Our institutions of higher education are now havens for private banks to extract wealth from the 99%. Student debt has skyrocketed to over a trillion dollars. More and more young adults cannot afford to pay back their student loans.

The average Oregon University System student leaves school with roughly $24,000 in student debt. The value of a degree is worth less due to a lack of jobs and reduced real wages. Over the past decade, the sum of tuition and fees in the Oregon University System has essentially doubled, outpacing the rate of inflation.

At the same time, national funding for higher education, after adjusting for inflation, has been reduced over $100 million during the past decade. Students in the Oregon University System have a list of demands for the Board of Higher Education. We intend to force the Board to listen to us. We need to make them aware of our struggles, and we need to present them and the tax-paying public with our solutions.

Why is this necessary? The health status of higher education has reached critical condition and the system is on life support. Young adults are the collateral damage wrought from a punishing system of debt enslavement and free market brainwashing. Oregon universities are increasingly catering to the wishes and demands of corporations and rich donors, not the demands of students. Public institutions are increasingly competing with corrupt private low-quality and for-profit colleges. We students are the sole reason why the higher education system exists in the first place. This system has failed us.

The out-of-touch administrators of Colleges and the Oregon University System’s board members apparently don’t care about these hard facts. However students do have the collective power to demand and force change. Students in the University of California system are facing similar challenges in their higher education system and they are fighting back. They are showing up at the UC system Board of Regents meetings. It’s time that Oregon University System students do the same.

The demands of Oregon students I have been working with are as follows:

1. We need a solution to ending tuition and all student fee increases. A moratorium on all increasing costs should be established. The increase in costs for students are not justified by capitalist market inflation rates, or even the Oregon University System (OUS) operating budget.

2. The quality of instruction, especially as it relates to student instructor ratios, must improve to alleviate crowded classrooms. The instructor incentive structure, particularly with regard to the increasing emphasis on research, serving on committees, and graduate education, needs to be addressed — such factors currently reduce the quality of instruction.

3. Staff furloughs must end, cost-of-living increases are needed for front-line staff, and there must be a freeze for all top-level administrator pay. Instruction costs are clearly not driving tuition and fee costs, and students and staff are essentially subsidizing ever increasing costs associated with an elite administrator class. Administrators are overvalued and staff are undervalued, all at the expense of students. Policy and spending priorities should reflect the reality that workers deserve a living wage, students are the reason public universities exist, and that promoting inequality is anathema to public institutional goals.

4.  The decision making process for the OUS budget and in setting tuition and fees must include more transparency, along with more horizontal democracy.

5. All Oregon universities must recognize all graduate student employees as part of the graduate employee union.

6. The disturbing trend of the privatization of public higher education must end. For example, private bank student loans showed the highest increase among all forms of student methods of payment over the past year, yet the state has no plan to stop increasing dependence on private loans for their students. Furthermore, the influence of corporations and private donors in determining OUS’s priorities are unethical and fails to align with the interests or demands of students and society.

University students in Oregon are asking for Occupiers to stand in solidarity with us behind these demands. Contact members of the Board. Attend their meetings. If you are moved by this call to action please feel free to contact Eric Coker at [email protected].

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