A Dance with Debt: AU’s Tuition Hike



By: Chase Cabot

Debt is a weapon. An abstract concept of financial obligation that has destroyed governments, dissolved societies, and ruined millions of lives. In ancient Mesopotamia consumer debts periodically drove so many into servitude that their societies were faced with meltdown. The economic conditions of France caused by debt fueled the French Revolution and the ascendence of the Jacobins. In 2001 Argentina’s economy defaulted on its debt and collapsed, contracting by 11% in a single year.


We base the entire world’s political economy on a weapon. And in the madness of the post-recession world capitalists and politicians are using this weapon on us. Student loan debt has exploded as tuition costs have ballooned. Since 2008 student loan debt has increased by 84%, and Americans burdened with student loan debt has reached forty million. That’s 13% of the American population.


American University is dumping gasoline on the problem.


AU holds itself as a progressive bastion, a place where all kinds of people can gather and gain a well rounded education. But that vision will remain a lie until the dispossessed in our society have the same access to education as the rich. As Bryan Paz wrote in his recent column, AU is already ranked within the top fifty most expensive schools in the nation. We also have $6,200 more debt per person than the national average. Yet instead of meeting rising costs by lowering President Kerwin’s $1.3 million dollar paycheck and putting that oil money to good use, or spending less on Founder’s Day, the Board of Trustees will likely raise tuition again.


This system isn’t working for anyone on this campus but those born into well off households. They don’t need to take on the soul crushing debt we do. That load of debt will force our generation into the servitude of capital. Our debt will wreck many of our relationships and tear social bonds apart. Even now marriages are falling apart. As Ron Lieber wrote for the New York Times about a lucky couple willing to support one another, “he and Ms. Tidwell should be able to pay back her loans (albeit over 20 or 30 years) as long as they live relatively modestly.” Instead of emerging from college ready to experience the rest of their lives and challenge the world their parents created, they must conform to the desires of employers. The need for a job, any job, supersedes the need to thrive. The worship of economic “freedom” is destroying freedom. Oh well, I guess freedom is a commodity for sale.


If we want to make AU affordable for all members of our society without pushing them into servitude, then we must fight for systemic change. Our end goal should be free higher education like in Norway. But for now we the students of American University need to protect the status quo and prevent the Board of Trustees from raising tuition. Student Government won’t save us. They’re too busy resting on their laurels after the vain self-flattery that I heard Founder’s Day Ball was. Change from above isn’t coming, so only we can band together to protect ourselves. The students of AU are the true strength of this campus. We’d better hurry up and use it, the clock is ticking.