Why students across the country plan to walk out of classrooms today

Dubbed The Million Student March, the protest is expected to draw students from some 100 colleges and universities nationwide to demand tuition-free public universities, forgiveness of all student debts, and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers.

Jeremy Hogan/Bloomington Herald-Times/AP
Indiana University senior Randall Burns holds a sign he said represents the average debt a college student has after graduating, during the IU Strike protest, Thursday, April 11, 2013 in Bloomington, Ind.

Thousands of college students are set to walk out of classes today to call attention to the heavy debt load many take on in order to complete their higher education.

The protest has been dubbed the “Million Student March” and is expected to draw students from some 100 colleges and universities nationwide, according to the official Facebook event page.

The movement has three basic demands, according to its website: tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debts, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers. 

The demonstrations come just two days after low-wage workers staged protests in cities around the nation, pushing for a $15 per hour minimum wage and union rights.

“Education should be free. The United States is the richest country in the world, yet students have to take on crippling debt in order to get a college education,” the organizers explain on their website. “We are united to fight for education as a human right.”

Student loan debt is at an all-time high in the US. According to an analysis of government data published in May, the average college graduate from the Class of 2015 has more than $35,000 of debt.

The crisis has been brewing for awhile. Student loans have increased by 84 percent since the 2008 recession, according to a study from credit data company Experian. The analysis also finds that the total volume of outstanding US student loan debt has risen to a staggering $1.2 trillion. Forty million Americans now have at least one outstanding student loan, the group says.

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed free tuition for students who attend two years of community college. The issue is also resonating with some current presidential candidates. This summer, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan for debt-free college tuition while her chief rival, Bernie Sanders, has repeatedly called for tuition-free public college.

During an interview with Yahoo's Katie Couric in June, Mr. Sanders said that the only way to achieve free higher education would be for a million students to march on Washington to demand it. This appears to be what inspired the student activism happening today. 

“If a million young people march on Washington, they [say] to the Republican leadership, we know what’s going on, and you better vote to deal with student debt," Sanders said. "You better vote to make public universities and colleges tuition free – that’s when it will happen.”

Florida Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio has proposed establishing an income-based repayment system for federal student loans, and says he wants to simplify the application process for federal aid, Reuters reports.

"This is clearly an urgent crisis, but establishment politicians from both parties are failing to take action," organizers of the event said on their website.

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