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A Call for Submissions on Student Debt

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In collaboration with Debt and Society, the Berkeley Journal of Sociology (BJS) is seeking submissions about student debt.  Submissions will be considered for the 2015 print edition of BJS as well as an online series that will launch in September, 2015.

In addition to short essays (less than 3,500 words), we are also seeking photo essays, illustrations, reviews, and critical replies to published content.  Submissions must be received by June 1st, 2015 and should be emailed to bothcharlie.eaton@berkeley.edu and submissions@berkeleyjournal.org.  Full BJS submission guidelines can be found here.

The goals of the series are described further here:

The goal for the series is to spur a dialogue between activists, academics, consumer advocates, and labor about the many initiatives that have emerged to address the student debt crisis.  We hope to feature critical interventions about efforts to reduce the burden of existing debt as well as about initiatives to reduce the use of student debt to finance higher education access.

To some extent, the different policy proposals and political mobilizations have thus far occurred independently of one another.  In the case of existing student debt, for example, the Strike Debt committee emerged out of Occupy Wall Street to fight for debt forgiveness — most recently with the launch of a debt strike by federal student loan borrowers who formerly attended schools owned by the now-bankrupt Corinthian Colleges corporation.  On the other hand, the Higher Ed, Not Debt coalition has pushed for legislation and administrative actions by the Obama administration to reduce student loan burdens through refinancing, tighter regulation of private lenders, and a crack-down on aggressive debt collection practices by debt collection agencies.  With prominent backing from Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, this coalition has united long-established consumer organizations, student groups, labor unions, and liberal think-tanks.  Unions within the coalition, moreover, appear to increasingly link the fight against student debt to ramped up efforts by temporary faculty and workers to unionize.

The extent to which these mobilizations around existing student debt are actually linked to each other, however, is less clear.  Likewise, we know of few, if any, concerted dialogues between scholars or the many groups involved about the strategic thinking, prospects, or potential interactions of the different campaigns.  As such, there appears to be an underdevelopment of both activist and academic ideas about how different strategies and tactics might complement or undermine one another and the larger objectives of debt reduction or more complete debt forgiveness.

There is similar fragmentation in the efforts to reduce the use of student debt in the financing higher education access and success.  In August 2013, Strike Debt issued a report calling for the financing of free-tuition for public and community colleges through the elimination of federal financial aid to attend for-profit colleges and of tax credits for student households.  Some consumer advocates and liberal groups have criticized the logic behind the proposal for being regressive in offering an equal tuition benefit to households irrespective of their income level.  Nevertheless, even critical scholars, advocacy groups, and the Obama administration have since proposed or supported proposals that include some version of tuition-free community college.  Others have argued for large increases in federal grant aid for lower income students without tying such increases to a clear tuition-free policy.

Again, however, we lack thorough published analysis and debate about the strategic implications or potential social outcomes of the political and policy dynamics that might accompany any of these college cost proposals.  Economic sociologists, scholars of politics, and policy analysts have all been remarkably silent regarding such major policy proposals.  The scholarly silence is particularly striking in comparison to the large body of insightful and consequential work on other major initiatives like healthcare reform.  With our series on student debt, Debt & Society and BJS will help to fill this void.

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Charlie Eaton

Charlie Eaton is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. His research looks at how organizations shape inequality through politics, the economy, and social policy. His dissertation is on the financialization of higher education. You can follow him on Twitter @eatoncharlie

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