Finding solutions to the student debt crisis has to become the number one priority for American universities. American student loan debt exceeds $1.2 trillion. The problem is especially bad at NYU: last year’s graduating class had more collective debt than that of any other non-profit school in the country, with an average of about $35,000 of debt.
Because of its large size, location, and the powerful people associated with it, NYU stands as a model for schools across the country. The question is what trend will NYU set? Will we continue down the path of the corporate university, where education is treated like a commodity reserved for those who can afford it? Or will we make the hard changes necessary to put the needs of students, our families, faculty, and other workers at the center of our education system?
So far, our top administrators and members of the Board of Trustees (who have the final say over the budget) have shown themselves insensitive to students’ struggles. Instead of figuring out ways to lighten the financial burden for students, they spend their time and our money on NYU 2031- a multi-billion dollar expansion plan in the village, the loans for homes program, and gross overcompensation such as President Sexton’s scheduled $2.5 million “length of service” bonus.
So we know there is money. We know that there’s a $100 million a year budget surplus, supposedly saved to deal with emergencies. Yet, the administration has already said that the surplus will be put towards expansion for at least the next 10 years. How can they spend that surplus as though there isn’t a very real emergency to be dealt with? There is no apparent reason why the surplus should not be directed towards addressing it.
The administration and the Board of Trustees aren’t going to solve this problem. We as students have stand up together and demand that the student debt crisis be the unversity’s top priority. The NYU Student & Labor Action Movement is calling for a ten-year freeze on tuition and a 25% increase in the average financial aid grant to students. This is what a real commitment to addressing the crisis looks like. This commitment means making major changes in budget priorities, and putting big projects on hold.
The Momentum campaign is a step, but it is far from enough. It avoids the real challenge of reorienting NYU’s future priorities and current direction, and its programs are misguided. The Finish Line grant, for example, is only helpful for students who make it to their last semester. It leaves out those with the most severe debt problems, who are often forced to leave well before then.
Making the student debt crisis NYU’s top priority won’t be easy, but events around the world tell us that winning is possible. Students across the world have taken action together to demand that their schools treat education as a right. Administrators have already shown us that change will not come from them. Change must come from us – the students, united with faculty, workers, and anyone else struggling for the human right to education. We sometimes fail to realize the genuine power in our numbers, which means we sometimes fail to realize that we can and must win this struggle against those who would plunge us and our families into life-long indebtedness. Whether we win or lose depends on whether or not we organize ourselves to claim our rights. So join us.