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#MicCheckWallStreet rallies in Seattle against student loan hikes

Photo courtesy of Alex Garland

Fed up with the rising costs of college education and the prospect of interest on student loans doubling on July 1, a new student coalition in Seattle has started making some noise – with pots and pans and whatever else they can take to the streets with.

Last Wednesday, the group called #MicCheckWallStreet was up in “non-violent” arms on Capitol Hill in their largest protest yet. The group marched down Broadway in and out of the street, while police frequently pushed them onto the sidewalks.

#MicCheckWallStreet declares on its website that it's committed to bringing about change and raising political awareness through community outreach.

“Our mutual goals are dedicated to economic and political justice,” says activist Travis Conquest.

Back on the streets tonight

Inspired by students in Montréal protesting their own country’s education polices, #MicCheckWallStreet intends to peacefully march again with pots and pans and make themselves heard tonight starting at 7 at Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill.

Seattle resident Angela Vogel, 31, is planning to attend the protest. Vogel's story is a familiar one in today's economic climate: She was recently laid off from her job as a marketing manager at a large corporation, and although she has over 12 years of professional experience, her two-year associates degree puts her at a disadvantage against people with four-year diplomas.

She wants to go back to college to become more competitive in the job market, but fears it's just too expensive.

"I’ve been looking into my options for continuing my degree, and I frankly can’t afford it," she says. "There’s just no way I can pay for it."

The burden of college debt

Vogel has around $2,000 of student debt left to pay from the two-year degree she completed over 10 years ago.  She had been planning on paying it off by the end of this year.

However, now  that she's been laid off, she says that $2,000 "suddenly seems like a giant ball and chain." She is reluctant to take on even more debt to continue her education.

"I’m not young; I’m 31," she says. "So the idea of trying to fight the $30,000 of debt that I would graduate with when I’m already in my 30s … I’d never be able to buy a house. If I have kids, which I do plan to do someday, I’d be trying to save up for their education while still paying for my own ... it just doesn’t seem reasonable that in this country of vast wealth, we can’t educate people affordably."

Vogel will join other protesters on the march through Capitol Hill Wednesday evening.

#MicCheckWallStreet isn’t alone in their efforts. The coalition is in alliance with students from Montréal as well as other local schools like Chief Sealth International High School.

“It’s a spark that’s quickly turning into a fire around Seattle,” says Conquest. He told KPLU that marches have doubled in size each week over the past three weeks.

Local and national student debt

NPR reports that the national student debt has been rising rapidly for years now, surpassing the nation's credit card and auto loan debt. 

The latest study conducted by the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board (HEC Board) concluded that billions of financial aid dollars were provided to Washington students during the 2010-11 academic year. Of that total, 50 percent was given in the form of loans totaling $1.2 billion.

The Project on Student Debt has concluded that statewide, students graduate with just over $22,000 of debt on average (compared to roughly $25,000 national average).

Tuition on the rise as well

The University of Washington Board of Regents has approved a 16 percent tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students.

With the increase, tuition and mandatory fees for the 2012-13 academic year will total $12,401. That's a $1,564 increase. The regents also voted Thursday to allocate 30 percent of the increased tuition dollars to financial aid.

The tuition increase is equal to the amount allocated in the state budget for the current biennium. Lawmakers OK'd double-digit tuition increases to make up for similar cuts in state dollars going to the university. Washington State University and Western also increased their tuition by 16 percent.

In-state tuition at Evergreen and Central will go up 14 percent this fall. Tuition at Eastern is going up 11 percent.

“In general I would say that college remains a good investment but students should do what they can to minimize the amount of debt they take on,” says Randy Spaulding HEC Board’s Director of Academic Affairs and Policy.

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