April 25, 2012; Source: Washington Monthly (blog)

Did anyone notice that America’s combined student loan debt hit $1 trillion? Look at the burden young people coming out of undergraduate and graduate school have to carry. It is a little unfathomable.

The Occupy Wall Street movement noticed and organized “1TDay” protests in Manhattan and 20 other cities—mostly big college towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich., Amherst, Mass., Santa Cruz, Calif., and Madison, Wisc. OWS, or for this purpose, the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, has four explicit demands it is pressing for, including free education at public colleges and universities, zero fees and interest on student loans, financial transparency at private and for-profit educational institutions, and a one-time “jubilee” student debt forgiveness. 1TDay apparently supports Rep. Hansen Clarke’s (D-Mich.) Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, which the Washington Monthly says will “forgive the loan debt of those who have paid 10 percent of their discretionary income toward their loans for 10 years.”

One additional location for the 1TDay protests will be Newark, Del., where Sallie Mae is headquartered. Sallie Mae is no longer originating student loans, but is still making solid profits from collecting and serving student debt. President Obama’s plan to ensure that interest rates on student debt don’t rise above three or four percent has gotten the backing of his putative Republican rival, Mitt Romney, but the administration and Congress seem unlikely to endorse Clarke’s bill or the 1TDay Occupy demands.

Student debt burdens may be seen as a challenge to the economy (when employment challenges are making it hard for graduates to pay their loans) and a drag on the housing market (due to levels of carried debt making it difficult for families to qualify for mortgages or pay off their existing mortgages). Is student debt important to the nonprofit sector? You bet. Recall the platform of the Nonprofit Sector Workforce Coalition, whose Project on Student Debt pointed out that “rising debt burdens make it increasingly difficult for college graduates to work in the schools, youth programs, senior centers, and other charitable organizations, which serve our communities and families.” Student debt is a nonprofit human resource pipeline issue. Graduates will be hard-pressed to consider nonprofit sector jobs when they have to deal with loan repayments and the other costs of living in a continuing, recessionary economy.—Rick Cohen