Great conversation about the Edupunks’ Guide, Occupy Wall St and more with a great friend and colleague.

(crossposted from the Huffington Post)

Student loan debt has become a defining issue of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The nation’s cumulative student loan debt surpassed our cumulative credit card debt in 2010, and is heading north of $1 trillion; currently two-thirds of graduates take out loans, an average of $27,000 a head.

The growth of this particular kind of debt makes young people furious. It’s a betrayal of the American social contract that says if you work hard and invest in yourself through education, you’ll be able to build a better life. In my first book, Generation Debt, I explored how we got here and told stories about the emotional and cultural impacts of student loans; lately, with DIY U and the free Edupunks’ Guide, I’ve been focusing more on the underlying issue of soaring college tuition and innovations that might be able to cut the cost spiral–not to mention the growing world of free and open education.

These innovations are great, but they don’t help the graduates who are already saddled with so much debt. So here are some proposals to offer student borrowers relief that #OccupyWallSt could take up, ranked from the most radical to the more feasible.

1) Forgive all student loan debt. This idea has a Facebook page, a petition with 300,000 signatures, and it’s even been introduced in Congress. There are real fairness issues here because college graduates, even those with student loans are relatively more privileged with higher earning potential than non-college graduates. Still, if included as part of a radical call for bailing out the American people across the board — mortgages and credit card debt included– it has emotional resonance and could actually jumpstart the economy to boot.

1)a. You could help out those who most need it by canceling the student loan debt of non-graduates, defaulters, people who meet certain income requirements, or people who attended for-profits or other colleges with unacceptably low graduation rates (half of all student loan defaulters attend for-profits). See also: bankruptcy protection.

1)b. The radical direct action variation of this is for people to stage a debt revolt and simply stop paying their student loans. Advantage: Unlike with a mortgage or auto loan, they can’t repossess your brain. Disadvantage: You will never have credit again, and people in your life who have worked hard to pay off their own loans might see you as a deadbeat.

2)Rein in private student loans.
Private student loans, those offered by banks like Citibank and Wells Fargo, are growing three times faster than federal student loans. They are much more expensive, with higher fees and interest rates ranging up to 15%, varying by your creditworthiness.
Private student loans could be abolished outright, or they could be required to offer the same interest rates and repayment options as federal student loans, which would severely restrict their availability. If we don’t do something to tame the private student loan beast, it doesn’t much matter what happens with federal student loans–the volume of private loans is set to outpace the volume of public loans by 2025, according to Mark Kantrowitz of

3) Reinstate bankruptcy for student loans.
Student loans are unlike any other kind of debt in that they are almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, barring permanent disability. For federal loans, the government can garnish your wages, seize your tax refund, your federal disaster relief payments, and even your Social Security. Even private, unsubsidized student loans, the ones with 10 and 15% interest rates, have been nondischargeable in bankruptcy since 2005.

Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice has been organizing on this issue for several years. Bankruptcy protection has failed three times in Congress; there are currently bills in the House (sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen of TN) and Senate (sponsored by Sen. Durbin)
This is an issue of basic fairness. There’s no reason to treat student loan debt so differently from other types of debt, other than as a gift to the banks.

4) Expand Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Depending on how much you make and how much you owe, you have the right to lower your monthly payments on FFELP and direct student loans through Income-Based Repayment. President Obama just announced that he’s accelerating access to the plan so that graduates can pay just 10% of their income, with all loans forgiven after 20 years. Meanwhile, people who work in the military, for the government, for nonprofits, police, firefighters, teachers, social workers, have the right to have loans completely forgiven after 10 years of repayments.
One issue with these programs is simply that they’re undersubscribed. Another is that you may end up paying more by stretching out the payments, and you’re harnessed to that payment for 20 years. But they’re a hell of a lot better than default, and in the absence of bankruptcy protection, they’re the least bad option for people currently facing unsupportable student loan debt.

Diyu educause

Last week I gave my last big speech before the baby comes, at Educause, the ginormous ed-tech conference/trade show/organization. You can watch the video here. The previous Friday night at 8pm I spoke at the New School to about 12 people (with a new, speculative, not-so-ready-for-prime-time presentation), so it was really nice to go out with a large enthusiastic crowd. I got mostly positive feedback on this speech on Twitter and email, and I’ll also get a chance to look at people’s evaluation forms, which is cool.
Big news coming out of the conference, which I touched on in the Q&A, was the phenomenon of large for-profit education behemoths jumping on the “open” bandwagon.
Update: I have to link to Michael Feldstein‘s extremely thoughtful look at the details behind these announcements, and what they mean for openness.
Pearson is launching something called OpenClass, described as a cloud-based, self-service, learning management system (LMS), compatible with Google Apps for Education and available in the Google Apps store that is completely free to use–free of licensing, hardware or hosting fees.
Meanwhile Blackboard, which has a similar free cloud-based service, announced that it’s becoming Open-Educational-Resource-friendly, making it easier for educators who use this platform to publish the resources they create under Creative Commons license, and to allow universities to more easily grant access to their learning platforms to non-enrolled students.
Cable Green from Creative Commons asked what I thought about this in the Q&A, and I brought up David Wiley’s concept of “openwashing.”
On the one hand, it’s great that these large companies are recognizing the power of the concept of open and free sharing of educational resources to the future of education, collaborative, peer-based, puppies, kittens, blah blah blah. On the other hand, if you want to create a truly open learning institution, wouldn’t it be better to use an actually open-source LMS like Moodle or Sakai than a version created by Pearson, which mainly wants to sell you resources, or Blackboard, whose money comes from fees for services and license?
On the other, other hand, as I pointed out in the Q&A, it’s only rational that these companies are pursuing multiple strategies to remain sustainable in a rapidly changing market, both holding on to their old closed businesses (buy a printed, copyrighted textbook from Pearson here) and trying to get into the platform racket. And advocates of openness have to do the same thing to remain sustainable, either as profitable businesses or as nonprofits.

Sorry for the silence here, I’ve been busy with a mini-tour for The Edupunks’ Guide that took me to Maker Faire, the Smithsonian, the New School, and the Educause conference. I wanted to cross post two recent pieces I did for the Huffington Post about #OccupyWallSt. I’ve been tremendously impressed and inspired by what’s going on there.

Generation Debt At the Barricades (hat tip to Kevin Carey for the suggestion/title):

College is the centerpiece of the American dream. We tell our children that if you have both merit and gumption you’ll be handed the chance to prove yourself on a level playing field, with both financial and personal rewards. And so it’s our nation’s college students — the ones with an average age of 26, the ones who are burning through their youth with a cycle of part-time jobs and part-time classes — who are now raising their voices to tell us that the dream has gone hollow.

That’s what this movement is really about. That’s what makes it so hard to ignore. Millennials, like all young people throughout history, have been pilloried for their sense of entitlement and lack of perspective, but that’s exactly what gives them the moral high ground here. They feel entitled to a better future than what they’re facing. They believe, as they’ve been taught to believe, in an America of rising prospects and expanding opportunities. They’re not living in that America anymore.

#OccupyEverywhere: University of the Streets

one major way the occupations are functioning for the people involved: as a nationwide free school or teach-in, a university of the streets. I’m not just talking about when famous academics like Cornel West or Slavoj ZIzek stop by to give a lecture, but about the all-day seminars.
Take people out of their normal routines, put them together in a context of multiple issues of immediate concern, and they talk and exchange ideas and sometimes come up with solutions.

College debt has emerged as one of the major issues of this protest, and the young people involved are discovering two things: that education can be free, and that they can educate themselves and each other.

For the past two months or so I’ve been working on translating my ebook, the Edupunks’ Guide, into an easy-to-navigate website. I’ve had the help of an all-woman team: the fantastic designer, Emma Welles, and developer, Ashley Holtgraver,  plus my tireless research assistant Molly who did the heavy lifting on the content entry.

And here it is!

This is my first time commissioning a website and I have to say I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. The idea was to translate the material in the guide into an attractive, easily searchable and navigable site. A relaunch is coming later this fall with commenting and annotating capabilities…in the meantime, I’m taking suggestions by email for new resources to add to the site, as well as bugs and edits of course!

Gates Foundation supported the development of the website, as well as hosting for one year (assuming moderate amounts of traffic). After September 2012, if it’s built up a decent audience and people seem to value it, I may look for some ads to continue to support it.