The protesters at UC Davis are right to be angry: rising student debt loads have extraordinary effects.
Behind the horrific images of a UC Davis policeman nonchalantly pepper spraying a peaceful group of seated students is the reason why they’re seated. What’s forced them out of their classrooms and dorms and into tents on the quad? A lot of issues, certainly, as the Occupy movement is taking a stand against many dysfunctional aspects of our society. But as one of the students who was sprayed put it, “The #OWS movement is global, but it’s expressed locally in ways that are relevant to each city. People who are in NYC go to Wall Street. Oakland takes the port. At Davis, we have a university.”
University students have a right to be pissed off. Beyond the fact that they’ll be graduating into a world where Wall Street dominates the economy but gives little value back, corporations have more say in our political system than citizens, and neither is held accountable, they’re facing the short-term constraints of gargantuan student debt loads, set to hit a total of $1 trillion this year — more than all credit card debt combined. The graduates of 2010 who had student loans owed an average $25,250; compare that to the average graduate in 1993, who only owed $8,462. Those numbers are daunting, but what do they mean for students’ futures?
Amanda Terkel wrote a fantastic in-depth article looking into the “brain drain”: hordes of fresh grads, the best and brightest our country has to offer, getting funneled into Wall Street. These students aren’t just economics majors or business school grads. They’re engineers, computer programmers, scientists. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the banks’ gravitational pull. Recruiters from finance and consulting firms are allowed to give money to career development offices in some universities in exchange for more access to students. And then there’s the increased status of going to Goldman or Citi, the peer pressure. That’s a new phenomenon. Before bank deregulation in the late 70s and 80s, banking was thought to be a snoozy line of work. Booming profits changed that.