Hundreds of US students plan to use this summer’s graduation as a stage to protest crippling debt. With the presidential election on the horizon, policymakers are searching for a solution to the mountain of student debt which has topped $1 trillion.
The protest movement has been baptized Occupy Graduation and is the brain-child of US ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen. He dubs the movement a way for students to silently protest the spiraling price of education, without disrupting the ceremonies of their compatriots.
In protest at rising college costs the movement asks graduands to put a sticker with the amount they owe in debt on their caps and don a symbolic ball and chain at their graduation ceremony.
At least six universities have already put in orders for the inflatable ball and chain kit including New York City, George Washington and North Carolina – and the movement looks to be gathering momentum.
Student debt is now the largest consumer debt in American society, totaling over $1 trillion with the average college attendee owing over $25,250 by the end of the course.
One in every five students is expected to default on the debt, severely damaging his or her credit rating.
“We’re already seeing a large increase, a large number of student loan defaults across the country. And that’s coming at a rate similar to when the mortgage loans started to default as well and this has a cumulative effect, it’s a downward spiral,” said Edward Needham, one of the organizers of a parallel Occupy strand – Occupy Student Debt to RT’s Marina Portnaya.
With the US elections just round the corner, President Obama and republican candidate Mitt Romney have targeted student loans as a growing problem for middle-class American families.
Interest rates for federal loans, one of the major cash flow sources for US students are set to double this July unless the US government intervenes.
However, the Senate Republicans blocked a vote on Tuesday that would have ended a tax-break for the wealthy to fund lower interest rates.
President Obama signed a bill in 2010 that would see the so-called forgiveness program expanded in 2014. Under the scheme, eligible students would see their loan repayments capped at 10 percent of their income and written off after 15 years.
Together, Americans over 60 years of age still owe onwards and upwards of $38 billion in student debt and over ten percent of them are lagging behind on payments.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to pay my debt off as long as I live and so you’re creating literally a class of indentured people, it's a disadvantage basically,” said part-time teacher Mike Friedman to RT, his debt totaling $150,000.
US youth have been instilled with the idea that higher education is a gateway to stability and wealth. But growing unemployment figures and a potentially life-long debt are forcing young Americans to reevaluate their academic aspirations.