The Occupy Wall Street movement has, unsurprisingly, gotten a lot of attention. According to a recent Time magazine poll, 54 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the protesters; take from that what you will. Whether or not you support the protesters, you can’t deny that the movement unmistakably reflects the anxieties of our time— the ones that have to do with the economy, at least. Righteous or whiny, the kerfuffle is separated from Wash. U. by many miles.
The Occupy St. Louis movement hasn’t gained much momentum, at least not yet. Of more direct interest to us as students might be the Occupy Colleges movement. While right now I find it hard to take the Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy St. Louis, for that matter) movement seriously, I do think the Occupy Colleges movement raises some interesting points. Education, especially quality education, directly affects one’s success. With the increasing cost of college, plenty of people could get shut out, creating a greater dichotomy between those with access to education, and those without. At the same time, inequality has always existed. Schools like Wash. U. cost a lot for a reason, and they certainly won’t get cheaper any time soon.
While the movement expresses solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Colleges is fixated on student-specific issues, like student loans and the ever-increasing cost of college, as well as the less-than-ideal job market. Last Thursday, according to the Huffington Post, students at 90 colleges across the nation pledged to walk out in a show of solidarity. As far as I know, no such demonstration happened at Wash. U., though I am sure more than a few people here sympathize with Occupy Wall Street and/or Occupy Colleges.
Wash. U. recently earned the distinction of fourth most expensive school in the country, according to Forbes.com. I find this unsurprising—those Tempur-Pedic mattresses aren’t free, you know. Then again, Wash. U. is a private school; we all know what we’re getting into (for the most part) when we accept the admission offer. We (read: our parents) shell out a ton of money not only for the quality of education, but also so we can get our foot in the door of success. It would have been possible for me to go to a state school with a significantly lower price tag, but I chose to come here because I thought I would have a better shot at jobs later and because I have generous parents.
People with similar academic abilities who aren’t so lucky often opt for cheaper schools. Even if you’re a student applying to Generic State University and you have pretty average grades, you can get shut out by the cost, creating a greater dichotomy between those with money and those without. Competition will always exist, and I am not a communist, but education is supposed to be an equalizing factor. Its power as such is diminishing.
A few weeks ago, I came across one of those pictures of some person holding a sign documenting his personal financial woes, with the face cropped. Only this time, the sign was pretty much flipping the bird to the Occupy Colleges/Occupy Wall Street movement; the guy detailed how he chose to go to a “moderately priced state college,” worked a job and was on track to graduate without debt. The person who re-posted the photo was in the business school here at Wash. U., and, invoking a horribly unfair stereotype, that gives some context as to his or her bias. While this anonymous guy from the photo won’t be graduating with debt, he probably won’t get the same level of education we get at Wash. U., nor will he have the same opportunities for jobs.
Here at Wash. U., we’re not exactly guaranteed six-figure jobs post-graduation, but we’re not usually the marginalized people who aren’t be able to afford college because of the increasing cost of tuition. Wash. U. has an appalling record when it comes to the number of students receiving Pell Grants, and socioeconomic diversity is hardly Wash. U.’s strong suit. A large percentage of students here come from an upper-middle- or middle-class background. For starters, Wash. U. should do its part and give out more scholarships to increase diversity. But we as students should also give the issues raised by Occupy Colleges heed. We’re part of a larger community of students, and the cost of college is a divisive factor. The Occupy Colleges movement only draws attention to a problem that has existed for years.