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Left Forum: Student Debt Serfdom

Dissent and Jacobin will cohost a discussion on student debt at Left Forum, taking place March 16–18 at Pace University. Register here.

If nothing changes, student debt will haunt today’s youth into old age. How did we get locked into debt, who’s profiting from the status quo, and how can we reclaim our futures?

The Daily estimates that for students in the class of 2034, a college education in the United States will cost between $81,000 and $422,320. College tuition rises far faster than the rate of inflation, while median family incomes decline. According to the Project on Student Debt, two-thirds of college seniors graduated in debt in 2010, at an average of $25,250. They faced the highest youth unemployment rates in decades.

Increasing levels of student debt have been accompanied by laws preventing relief or forgiveness of loans. Creditors can seize any type of income, including Social Security, from indebted graduates. The loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

But now students have started to fight back and see their debt in political terms. Activists are organizing against the lenders that hold so many in permanent indenture. What forms of resistance are now available to us, and what are their limitations? What would higher education look like if we liberated it from this entrenched system and opened it to all?

Panelists:

Sarah Jaffe, associate editor at AlterNet.org and a freelance political journalist and feminist pop culture critic.

Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, author of Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times, and coeditor of The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace.

Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin.

Jeffrey Williams, professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University and author of many notable articles about student debt, including “Debt Education” and “Student Debt and the Spirit of Indenture” in Dissent.

Annie Spencer, doctoral student in Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center teaching courses on economic geography and development at Hunter College, and a member of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.

Sarah Leonard (moderator), associate editor at Dissent.