University group protests student debt

Students gather in Richmond for Virginia Student Day of Action

nsstatecapitalcourtesyrichmondtimesdispatch

College students from around the state gathered in Richmond Monday for the Virginia Student Day of Action against Student Debt at the General Assembly. The event was organized through the Virginia Student Power Network — a grassroots network of student activists from universities across Virginia advocating for education reform — in response to what they said was an absence of student debt hearings at the General Assembly.

The University sent several representatives to the event through the student group U.Va. Students United, including fourth-year College student Greg Lewis, second-year College student Ibby Han, University alumna Claire Wyatt and second-year College student Nqobile Mthethwa.

“The Day of Action is an opportunity for students across Virginia to come together and demand an end to the crushing student debt that many of us are forced to carry in order to graduate college,” Mthethwa said in an email.

The organization has been active on Grounds in pushing for a student voice and is a leader within the Virginia Student Power Network. In Richmond, they participated in a public student hearing on debt, rallied in front of the Capitol and lobbied representatives for action on the issue.

The students cited a statistic from the Project on Student Debt which finds 60 percent of Virginia students graduate with college debt.

“Many legislators in Richmond and across the country don’t see student debt as a crisis,” Mthethwa said. “But collectively, students owe over $1.2 trillion in student loans. In Virginia, where the cost of public higher education is the fifth highest in the nation, college costs continue to rise rapidly. We hope to put the student debt crisis on the public agenda as a matter of urgent concern.”

The group also showed support for two bills in the Virginia General Assembly: a bill to cap student athletic fees and one to remove coal tax credits and use the resulting money for scholarships for Virginia students.

Two related bills passed out of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee Monday, including the above mentioned bill to cap student athletic fees. The second bill aims to cut back on regulations to give schools “greater administrative and financial autonomy,” according to a press release.

“Virginia has some of the best institutions of higher education in the world, but the costs are simply growing too fast,” House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said in a press release. “Virginia students are borrowing over $1 billion per year to pay for college, and that’s going to hurt their long-term prosperity. These are good bills to help make college more affordable for families and students. I look forward to their final passage later this week.”

U.Va. Students United previously hosted forums, teach-ins and actions on topics like the privatization of higher education and racism on Grounds, as well as launched a campaign to create a public comment period for Board of Visitor meetings.

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