The Activist Agenda is a statement of the Young Democratic Socialists' national priorities for the year. This year we decided to focus on one campaign, Free Higher Education and Repeal Senate Bill 5. The Activist Agenda was adopted at our annual summer conference on August 10th, 2012.
Campaign for Accessible and Affordable Higher Education
Campaign for Accessible and Affordable Higher Education
YDS’s Campaign for Accessible and Affordable Higher Education campaign will focus on a range of short, medium, and long-term objectives to stem the rising tide of austerity in higher education. The immediate objective of the campaign will be to fight against increases in tuition and cuts to essential student services and academic programs in state-level budget fights this coming spring. In the medium-term, a fundamental reassessment of budget priorities is necessary that will institute progressive taxation and slash wasteful military spending to pay for tuition decreases, increased financial aid to needy students and funding for under-served academic departments and student services. Finally, in the long-term, tuition must be reduced to zero, and all odious student debts must be forgiven to ensure that the basic human right of free higher education for all becomes a reality.
As democratic socialists, we believe that education is a human right, and that all citizens are entitled to free public higher education from preschool through graduate study. This right has already been recognized in many societies – especially in Western Europe - but in the United States we have instead witnessed exorbitant tuition hikes, and increasingly burdensome debt loads for students.
As the Debt Hits Hard project notes, the cost of higher education in the United States is staggering:
· Over six in ten college graduates are burdened with educational debt. Of those, four in ten, and more than half of African-American and Hispanic borrowers, are burdened with an unmanageable level of debt. (Financial experts define unmanageable debt as the salary-to-debt threshold at which an individual is only able to repay his/her loans with significant economic hardship.)
· Student debt in the United States has reached $1 trillion.
· Between 2001 and 2010, 2 million academically qualified students will not go to college because they can't afford it.
· The average student today graduates with debt twice that of graduates a decade ago -- and enters a job market where the average job pays them less than it would have in 2000.
· The general cost of living is increasing at a rapid pace. College textbooks, for instance, have tripled in price since 1986 and are becoming ever-larger culprits of student debt.6
· The average college senior now graduates with $32007 in credit card debt and $18,900 in student loans.
· Graduates of public colleges and universities accumulate almost as much debt as their peers at private institutions, even though public schools are intended to increase access for low income students.
· ADD LANGUAGE ABOUT QUEER KIDS HAVING MORE DEBT BECAUSE OF LESS PARENTAL SUPPORT?
· ADD LANGUAGE ABOUT RACIAL STRATFICATION IN ACCESS.
These costs exercise an overwhelmingly negative influence on the economic opportunities and social lives of many students:
· Student debt is outpacing the starting salaries of jobs in teaching and social work, making it virtually impossible for many debt-laden graduates to pursue careers in fields where they are desperately needed. Nearly one quarter of all graduates from public universities and almost 4 in 10 graduates from private universities have levels of student debt that would become unmanageable at the salaries of starting teachers.
· More and more students are delaying major life decisions as a result of increased student debt. Thirty-eight percent of college graduates delay buying their first house because of debt, 14% delay marriage, 21% delay having kids. From 1991 to 2002, those figures rose by margins of 52%, 100% and 75%, respectively.”
As the social critic Jeffrey A. Williams has argued, the student debt system undermines democracy and social solidarity in crucial ways. Debt teaches us that education is a consumer service, restricts many from entering lower-paying career fields oriented toward public service and education, and further inculcates in students a market-oriented and individualistic worldview. The contemporary student debt system must be abolished, and the best way to do that is to organize for immediate relief from rising tuition, increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations and redirecting part of the military budget to fund higher education, and ultimately, for free, publicly funded higher education for all.
Short Term Goals
· Congressional Rep endorses The Student Loan Forgiveness Act
· Get School to declare a tuition freeze
· Get State Rep, to endorse more spending for higher education
Medium Term Goals
· State legislatures enact more progressive taxation and earmark money for higher education.
· Governors and state legislators pressure the federal government for additional funding.
· Decreased tuition
· Increased funding for under-served student services and academic programs.
Long Term Goals
· Free higher education for all matriculated students.
o No age limit, full-coverage for full and part-time students.
o Universities and colleges retain control over admissions standards.
o Universal Coverage. Everyone who gains admission to a public institution of higher learning, regardless of income, is covered.
o Public institutions enroll over 80 percent of all students in higher education. Cost of enrollment in private institutions not covered.
The ultimate aims of this campaign will obviously not be won right away. This is a proposal for a long-term organizing project that YDS can use to build a broad-based coalition in support of free public education from preschool through graduate study for all, and, in turn, to convince more people that Democratic Socialism is the only humane and sustainable means of resolving the most critical social and economic problems facing our society.
The campaign combines organizing for a reform that can improve millions of lives in the here and now with a critique of corporate capitalism and a vision of a truly democratic society in which all citizens have free and equal access to basic social goods. It will show people that our politics are not only relevant to practical, everyday concerns but are also visionary. In a time of crisis and rising economic uncertainty for millions of Americans, the time is right to demand free public higher education for all.
 This program is affordable: the total cost of tuition and fees for everyone enrolled in public higher education is relatively low, at approximately $25 billion.