On Thursday, university students around the United States held protests demanding free education and a $15/hour minimum wage standard for all campus employees. With nearly 1.4 trillion dollars in student loan debt, this protest is only the beginning of what I believe will become an intensified and unified protest movement over the next five years.
The reality is the business of higher education is economically unsustainable and will sooner or later collapse.
Student protests have always been part of the modern university system since it's inception from the early 19th Century. More recently, the protest in the late 1960 were so successful that powerful conservative political forces mobilized to undermine the public university system in the 1970s. The results of the conservative takeover of the academy are indisputable. For example, from 1978, tuition costs have risen over 1,100 percent more than any other economic sector, including medical services.
It's easy to understand why. When the state dramatically cut funding to universities, the universities shifted the burden from the public to the individual student, reflecting a shifting ethos in the United States from a community-based society to an individualized one. The consequences of this shift towards individualism have been catastrophic -- just look at the massive growth in economic inequality since Reagan took office in 1980.
Given that the current university business model is so unsustainable and education is quickly becoming an entitlement of the wealthy and upper class while the poor and working classes are enslaved to massive debt, it's time to create alternative models for education.
The first step for creating alternative educational models is to realize why the current system is broken. It is broken because a business profit-making model has hijacked the learning process.
So, an alternative must be committed to nonprofit education. The challenge thus becomes how to create and sustain a model of education that isn't looking to make money off the backs of enslaved debt-burdened students. Without public funding for such alternatives, the only other option is to rely on the wealthy class. But if you create an education alternative with the support of the wealthy class odds are the investment funds will need to be paid back and with interest. I know this too well from my own experience starting an alternative school. If you must pay back the investment, then it turns your education model into a profit-making model. What's more, the wealthy private investors not only want their money back with interest, but now they have the power to dictate the content of education: who you hire, what you teach and how you teach, etc.
In sum, owing to little or no public funding support and the perils of partnering with wealthy investors, you basically have no resources for creating alternative education schools.
But there is another way. One way the school I helped create has been able to sustain itself without making profits is by having volunteers who are committed to creating an alternative and teaching truths of history that the wealthy classes don't want the public to know. This way is not easy, many of us have worked hundreds and even thousands of hours without payment, but we do it because we believe in the power of how education can changes lives and that the truths of history must be spoken regardless of who's in charge.
Creating alternative not-for-profit schools is essential for the truths of history to continue speaking to us. The student protests of today will get louder and louder as they demand truth and a right to access that truth. It's time we took seriously the past in order to create a better future for our world tomorrow.