By Dina Sayedahmed
Thursday, April 24th marked the two-year anniversary of student loan debt reaching $1 trillion. The Rutgers-Newark Social Justice Club organized an assembly of approximately 15 students and protested outside on the Norman Samuels Plaza, making a number of demands, among them a cap on interest rates and tuition increases as well as “money for jobs, not greedy corporations,” as one student’s poster read. Their voices were heard from across the plaza and drew the eyes and ears of several passersby.
According to Giancarlo Tello, a Political Science major, Class of ’16, “It’s definitely a huge campaign. Students from Rutgers-NB, Montclair, and all the way down to Rowan University have been taking part in the movement against increased tuition and interest rates.”
NJ state schools’ tuition is 3rd highest nationwide. While the national average state college tuition rate is $8,000, the average tuition rate in NJ state schools is $12,000.
Tello is active in several student movements, most prominently the NJ DREAM Act Coalition and the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.
Tello encourages students to advocate for their concerns and needs, saying, “Rutgers-Newark is rich in political and social activism. The history behind its diversity factor is compelling and students should be inspired by this.”
After chanting outside, demonstrators then marched their way inside the Paul Robeson Campus Center and coursed their way through the cafeteria, passing the Information Desk, then marching back down through the game room and making their final stop in the Starbucks lounge before heading back outside. and coursed their way through the cafeteria, passing the Information Desk, then marching back down through the game room and making their final stop in the Starbucks lounge before heading back outside.
“In demonstrating, we’re shifting the conversation,” Tello explains. “Before, nobody was talking about [increased college tuition and interest rates]. It was a private conversation. Now we’re trying to change that and involve the public and pressure legislators to act with our needs.”
Demonstrators also drafted a petition for students to sign. According to Edwin Rodriguez, Computer Science major, Class of ’16, and intern with the American Association of University Professors – Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), demonstrators collected approximately 50 signatures. The petition was in support of a letter drafted by Rowan University students and sent to the board of education in Pennsylvania regarding the second anniversary of student college debt reaching $1 trillion.
“Every student we approached agreed to sign our petition,” Tello explains. “This is a university issue that affects all students.”
“A Bachelor’s degree is the new high school GED. You need one in order to qualify for a competitive wage,” Tello states. “Students are forced to take out these loans, or work remedial jobs. These loans and their rising interest rates prevent students from buying cars, houses, or even paying rent. At this rate, the American dream will not be something possible for our generation to achieve.”
“I came out of a single-parent household and there was no way I could attend Rutgers without taking out huge loans,” Rodriguez narrates. “Now I’m looking at a $40,000 bill when I graduate. My entire generation is being saddled with this burden just as we’re entering the workforce, and it’s all because there are many people, including politicians, profiting from us.”
Despite increased tuition rates, students at Rutgers-Newark are not getting the “bang for their buck.” The Dana Library’s third floor, for example, has remained empty for years and closed off to students’ use due to renovations. Wifi connection is also weak, and several student lounges on campus are not visually appealing. On-campus dining options are limited as well as student resources, such as study rooms and classrooms.
“We are living in a country where priority for education is lower than many other things,” Rodriguez says. “That needs to change. Education is an important aspect of society and we need to educate the population in order for us to grow.”
“The federal government needs to stop profiting off students and assigning unfair interest rates,” Tello argues. “States need to reinvest in higher education. Schools need to decide what they’re going to invest in. We can’t have Rutgers-Newark spending however much on athletics, but removing funds from academics. We need to prioritize.”
Rodriguez asserts, “Education is not a business, students are not consumers, and nobody should be profiting from public higher education.”