Red Square Movement exposes our debt problem

By The Beacon | February 13, 2014 2:15am

It is shocking how unshocked we are at statistics about student loan debt.

CNN Money reported in December that the average student loan debt of 2013 graduates is $29,400. The same report stated that 60 percent of college graduates from Oregon have student loan debt. UP isn’t far from these averages, with 63 percent of students graduating with debt and an average of about $27,000 per student last year.

But somehow, numbers like these seem neither surprising nor particularly worrisome to most of us college students.

“Even though we’ve tried to offer information out there, it’s not highly attended,” said Director of Financial Aid Janet Turner. “I don’t know if people don’t think about loans until they graduate or they’re just not worried about it.”

This complacency is hard to figure out. We all hear horror stories about unemployed or underemployed college graduates struggling with loan payments of increasing size. Some of us have older siblings barely making ends meet and having to eat rice and beans to make their payments. But it is still an abstraction for us. We think of it like we think of a distant assignment, a paper a few too many weeks away for us to start working on.

It is time to end the widespread apathy we have about our post-college financial situations. Fortunately, students are starting to realize that debt is a reality. Senior Jessica Kast has gotten UP students involved in the Red Square Movement, which seeks to bring the issue of student debt into open conversations.

The first step, as Kast realizes, is to acknowledge the problem of student loan debt. But there is a lot more to do.

The Red Square Movement grew out of students in Quebec protesting against rising tuition rates. The root of student loan debt is not that students are irresponsible with their money but that college gets more expensive every year.

But we have the same apathy toward tuition increases that we have toward debt: it just doesn’t seem like a real issue. It is simply the assumption at virtually every American university (UP is no exception) that tuition will go up each year. This trend is unsustainable, as it will exclude more and more prospective students as time goes on. But few people advocate against the yearly tuition increase (we’d rather just grumble about it), and we feel relieved when the price of our education goes up less than five percent.

In addition to being activists for greater openness about student loan debt, we should also be questioning the pattern of perpetually rising tuition. If tuition rates are a problem for UP students, we must make it known. Tuition rates will not fall if we do not show the administration we care about student debt.

So pin a red square on your shirt and face up to student debt. Figure out how much debt you’ll owe after you graduate and realize that something needs to be done.