Student debt crisis expressed in art
Art often grapples with issues affecting society, so it is no surprise that the theme of student debt is now making its way into music and other art.
References to college financing in art help show how pervasive the burden of student debt is in the United States. More than 40 million Americans have student loans totaling nearly $1.4 trillion. It is now the second largest form of personal debt. The 67 percent of Ohioans who borrow for their education have the 12th highest average debt load in the nation at $29,353.
To discuss the distressing student debt crisis, 934 Gallery in Columbus recently hosted a panel on student debt and art. The panel was the first in an eight-part “Clarify” series created by Spotify and Mic.com. The panel followed an exhibition by Andrew Kuo, a New York artist whose exhibit focused on themes of student debt.
The event was part of Spotify and Mic.com’s Clarify Data Stories, a series using data to illustrate how music takes on politics and policy. Since the early 2000s, Clarify found a spike in music that mentions “student loans”, “student debt”, “Sallie Mae”, and “Pell Grants”. Spotify describes the series – with an fascinating video featuring artist Diplo – here.
“It takes hands off deck,” said Columbus native Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, a poet and writer. He had been asked how student debt and college access impact art, during the panel discussion co-hosted and moderated by Policy Matters Ohio. Willis-Abdurraqib said it limits choice.
Stuart McIntyre, of the Ohio Student Association, a statewide organization led by young people, explained how student debt hurts his student members. Densil R.R. Porteous II, of the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, shared insight on how debt limits opportunity.
Policies that make higher education less accessible and inclusive hurt us all, restricting choice, innovation, and inclusion. At the same time, research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that investing in higher education promotes wage growth, and productivity.
Decreased state funding for public colleges and universities has fueled skyrocketing tuition costs and crippling reliance on loans. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that across the country, average state support for higher education is down 18 percent, or $1,598 per student in inflation-adjusted dollars, from the 2007-08 school year to 2015-16. In Ohio, state funding per student fell 15.2 percent over that period. In all, the 2017 budget for higher education is $556 million less than in 2008, down 18 percent. During the 2015-16 year, Ohio nudged support up 4.7 percent, not enough to return to pre-recession funding levels or to help Ohioans get the education they need.
Ohio also cut need-based financial aid. The Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) is the only state aid program based entirely on need. The grant helps low-income people go to college. Ohio eliminated this grant for most students attending community colleges and branch campuses. Community colleges are a pathway out of poverty for students, many low-income and many who are managing their own households while finishing school, so these cuts are particularly damaging.
The cuts in state funding of higher education since the recession have hurt people pursuing higher education, especially working class students deterred by the high sticker price of tuition. The goal should not be to just restore pre-recession funding, but to support access, affordability, and quality for everyone who wants to go to college.
Clarify aims to inform young people about policy and inspire them to become civically engaged. Nationally, over 70 percent of the graduating class of 2016 has student debt, and the average amount owed is $37,173. Policy Matters has done extensive research on higher education funding and the Ohio College Opportunity Grant. For anyone interested in getting involved in activism around student debt and college affordability the Ohio Student Association, which organizes young people to build independent political power, is a good place to start.
-- Victoria Jackson
Victoria is a Policy Matters state policy fellow.