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Student Debt Crisis: It's Time for a Jubilee

After decades fighting for debt forgiveness on a global scale, the Jubilee campaign is now pushing for the cancellation of student debt, as well.

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Since then, Jubilee has continued to make forward progress, highlighting the misdeeds of “ vulture funds,” among other things.

The intriguing question now being raised is, can the campaign translate its past penchant for success on the international scene into debt cancellation for U.S. students?

Jubilee USA wrote recently about how it came upon student debt as a new area of focus:

As the debt crisis continues to spread from the Global South to the North, we began hearing increasingly from our regional chapters, faith communities and individual supporters that we must also address issues around debt and lending in the US. As we continue to work on international responsible lending and borrowing and on the impact of debts in the developing world, we also are making connections to student loans in the US. The sense of austerity that has wreaked havoc on the poorest is also challenging too many of us at home.

A variety of commentators have noted the Biblical precedent of having a “Year of Jubilee” for debtors, and they have argued that students would be worthy beneficiaries of such a break. Groups such as the Backbone Campaign and Roots Action have taken up the cause. And relief of student debt has been a popular demand within the youth-heavy Occupy movement.

In June, Jubilee activists pushed members of Congress to extend a low interest rate on student loans. The extension passed in early July, giving students at least a temporary reprieve from having rates double.

It’s still a long road to a serious program of debt cancellation for students. I suspect this fight will have to be waged largely under the radar and sustained for years if it is to prevail. But if there’s ground for confidence, it’s that Jubilee and its allies have done that before.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus, an editorial board member at Dissent, and a contributing editor at Yes! Magazine. He be reached via the website