If there’s one thing more troubling than the state of parking at IUPUI, it’s the amount of debt students are taking on to get through graduation.
According to an analysis of government data in The Wall Street Journal, the recently graduated class of 2015 is the most indebted class ever. Due to high-interest student loans, the average graduate will have to pay back just over $35,000, nearly twice the amount student borrowers were paying back 20 years ago (full report on state of student debt here).
Even worse, the outlook for class of 2016 is just as grim. An upward trend of rising costs over two decades doesn’t exactly instill hope. And plenty of people are fed up.
Lynette Taylor, a 33-year-old returning student majoring in history and sociology, happens to be one of those people -- but she’s decided to do something about it.
“It's time for us to fight against this cycle of continuing to just go to school, borrowing money, and living on the hopes that we hit the jackpot," said Taylor.
Along with the assistance of fellow students at IUPUI organization Students for Fair Wages (SFFW), Taylor is helping to organize the Million Student March on November 12, the first ever, nationwide protest for government subsidized college tuition (among other demands). Starting at 1 p.m., IUPUI’s Democracy Plaza will host crowds of students, past and present, demanding “tuition-free public college, a cancellation of all student debt, and a $15/hr. minimum wage for campus workers everywhere,” according to nationwide Organizer Keely Mullen in an interview with US Uncut.
Of the 100 plus college campuses participating, IUPUI is the only Indiana university to host a protest. Organizers have been drawing attention to the event on social media with the hashtag #MillionStudentMarch for the past month in hopes of a big turnout.
Though Students for Fair Wages are the main organizers, other groups have backed the march too. College Democrats at IUPUI, a political action committee, have also joined the movement hoping to enact real change. Director of Outreach Steve Eberhard, age 24 and senior student majoring in civic leadership and SPEA at IUPUI, sees minimum wage standards as crucial to decreasing student debt.
“We just think that it’s important for people to be able to afford living in today’s economy. It’s impossible only working on minimum wage,” said Eberhard. “A lot of the time, people working in these situations have to work two or three jobs. It makes it hard for people to find a job, and then for people to live off this wage after finding that job.”
It’s a common dilemma for many at IUPUI. Juggling a job (or two or three), a full class-load, maintaining friendships, and spending time with family makes for one weary student.
“I'm involved (in the march) because as a returning student, I know firsthand how hard it is to have enough time to go to school and work, and to make enough money to support myself and my family,” said Taylor.
For many participants in Thursday’s event, the issue of student debt, tuition costs, and minimum wage is a personal one.
“Even with an extra job and every minute of life taken up by school, work, and surviving, students still fall short because the whole system is broken,” Taylor said.
In light of upcoming elections, presidential candidates have sought to convince voters it’s a personal issue for them as well. The economical burden of $1.3 trillion in student loans -- mainly from the government -- can no longer be ignored. But try as they may, graduating with mounds of debt will never be as personal as it is for those in the thick of it.
“When it comes to student loan debt, I have $20,000 of debt myself,” said Eberhard. “I had some help from my parents, but most is up to me. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started to get grant money and subsidized loans. It’s definitely a struggle building up that much debt getting out of school.”
Amy Armogida, another march organizer with SFFW and 37-year-old returning student, knows the struggle firsthand as well. Her own experience has driven her to push for systemic change.
“I am a single mom trying to keep my head above water. I had to take out loans early in my academic career just to make ends meet with going to school and working two jobs,” said Armogida. “I’m joining this march because education is a right and should be affordable and obtainable for everyone. People over profit.”
Unlike sister school Indiana University, IUPUI’s in-state tuition has increased steadily over the past 5 years. Current tuition prices for 2015-16 academic year is up an approximate 1.7 percent from last year.
For 23-year-old sociology major Emma Fletcher, member of SFFW, the Million Student March represents the best hope for students of gaining national attention that could lead to less debt. Despite the odds, Fletcher is hopeful.