CARSON AND LEWIS: An odious debt

The University and the state of Virginia should ensure debt-free education for college students

Thousands of students across the country are drowning in debt, including many who attend the University or are recent graduates. Facing annual tuition hikes and cutbacks in financial aid, we struggle through school and are saddled with crippling loans upon graduation. Student debt is a crisis that must be addressed.

On Jan. 19, dozens of students from a host of Virginia public colleges and universities gathered at the General Assembly in Richmond to call for debt-free higher education. The day of action, organized by the Virginia Student Power Network, consisted of a student hearing on debt, a march around Capitol grounds and lobbying state legislators. Raising our voices and echoing the calls of the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we told stories of sacrifice, resilience and resistance.

The national student debt clock now stands at more than $1.2 trillion. In Virginia, almost 60 percent of students graduate with debt. The price tag of public higher education has long been a shock for poor students — the net cost of Virginia’s system is the fifth highest in the nation. These numbers are inexcusable. Fortunately, there are a couple of bright spots. Del. Kirk Cox, R-66, has proposed a bill to cap student athletic fees, which passed the House. And while a bill proposed by Del. Rob Krupicka, D-45, to redistribute coal tax credits to fund Virginia college scholarships was tabled, it shows some legislators are brainstorming solutions. Passing these pieces of legislation would be a solid first step toward lowering costs for students.

Here at the University, a number of students have been working on these critical issues in support of the broader statewide coalition. During the Fall semester, members of UVA Students United pushed for a stronger student voice in University governance, demanding a public comment period during meetings of the Board of Visitors, the University’s governing body. We’ve also held teach-ins and forums to critically discuss affordability, race on Grounds and the University’s impact on the community.

The University has an endowment of $6.4 billion. On Mar. 24 and 25, the Board will be voting on sweeping changes to the University’s tuition and financial aid structures. This looming decision signals that the time for action is now.

We refuse to be silent in the face of state cuts and the neoliberal assault on our universities. Join us in demanding the Board provide budget proposals that dramatically lower tuition and fees and ensure debt-free education for University students.

Kelly Carson is a third-year in the College and Gregory Lewis is a fourth-year in the College. They can be reached at uvastudentsunited@gmail.com.

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