So, you saw the flyers. What’s up? Well, the University of Michigan is changing for the worse—so much so you can see it in almost every part of the campus. We can see it just walking around, where the student body is more affluent and whiter than ever before (in 2000, 18.4% of Michigan students had a family income of $200k or more…in 2010, 27.6%). We can see it in the classrooms, where there are more and more GSIs and lecturers, who are paid only a fraction of what tenure-track professors make. We can see it in the salaries of the university administrators, which have risen a shocking 27% since 2006, while they have similarly raised our tuition (in the same time period) 22%. We hear their claims that there isn’t enough money, that there have to be cuts, that the state has defunded us, but we see the reality that the administrators always get paid, in full, without fail. We can see it in tuition, which has risen at Michigan a jaw-dropping 233% since 1990, pricing many poor and middle-income students out of the university. We can see it in the student loans we are now forced to take out: last year alone Michigan students took out an estimated $412 million (that’s right, for just one school year) in student loans—that’s almost half of what the university took in in tuition last year! And to add insult to injury, we can see it in the $2.3 billion the university administration has borrowed since 2007 to build new buildings, buildings we didn’t need, money we shouldn’t have borrowed, money that students, not the administrators who borrowed it, will eventually have to pay back, with interest in the form of more student loans.
We can all see that the University of Michigan has changed for the worse and that it isn’t getting better and that the administration has no ideas other than to raise tuition and to raise their own pay (…already the administration has announced that, despite state funding going up next year, there will still be a tuition hike!). Those of us involved in Occupy UM have been trying to figure out how things got like this and what we can do about it. In our struggle to figure out how things got so bad, we’ve come across some information that we found helpful. We want to ask you for 15 minutes of your time to share some of this information with you. In this piece, we will try to tell the story of how we got here. It is a story in two parts. The first part is about the Michigan Model and the rise of the for profit university, and the second is about the rise of student debt as a form of predatory lending (a term used to describe when banks use unfair or deceptive practices to get people into debt). By way of conclusion, we’ll make a few proposals for what we can do about it.