One of the expected offshoots of the Occupy movement that we’re already seeing are the protests on college campuses. Again, look to history. From the direct antecedent of the occupation of People’s Park in Berkeley to the more generalized scores of campus protests in the 1960s and 1970s, there’s a rich tradition of college students, typically the class of Americans with the most leisure time and the least obligations and responsibilities, engaging in dissent and protest.
If there is a difference here, it’s that increasingly, students are protesting for their right to afford a college education. As Zaid Jilani reminds us, it wasn’t so long ago that a college education at a well-recognized public university was free in the state of California. This goes all the way into the 1960s. But now, the cost of education is skyrocketing just as national wealth is collapsing from the popping of the housing bubble.
And this is not only true in California. The next-wave Occupy Wall Street protest today is specifically focused on the lack of affordability for higher education, which led Baruch College in New York City to cancel afternoon classes. In both New York and California today, protests coincide with state Board of Regents or city Board of Trustees hearings which could recommend additional tuition hikes.
An early leader in the Occupy movement’s list of grievances was the crushing burden of student loans. Those student loans have only become bloated and unaffordable in this era of tuition increases, forcing students who want to pursue higher education to borrow more money. The soaring cost of public education is pricing college out of reach for a large class of people, which depresses their potential for upward mobility. The 99% cannot ascend without the type of education being denied to them, as the 1% and the corporations they inhabit evade paying their fair share in taxes.
This is going to be a continuing feature of Occupy movement protests over the next several months; how could it not be? The crisis in higher education is part and parcel with the two-tiered country that has been molded over the past several decades.