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New Mexico Students Join Campaign for Free College

Students are organizing actions on college campuses across the nation on Thursday to launch a campaign for free public college. Credit: Brian A. Jackson/iStockphoto
Students are organizing actions on college campuses across the nation on Thursday to launch a campaign for free public college. Credit: Brian A. Jackson/iStockphoto
November 9, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - On Thursday, students from more than 100 campuses will join a national day of action demanding tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers.

Elan Axelbank, an organizer at Northeastern University in Boston, says continued state budget cuts and rising tuition costs have created an education crisis. He says in the richest nation in the world, students shouldn't have to take on what he calls crippling debt to get a college degree.

"In order for you to get an education, you have to take out loans from these private industries, who are profiting off of the fact that we just want to get an education so we can contribute to society in the best way that we possibly can," he says.

On average, he adds, this year's class of college graduates will have to pay back over $35,000 in student loans. He points to U.S. government data showing more than 40 million people share over a trillion dollars in debt, and says 58 percent of it is held by the poorest 25 percent of Americans.

Axelbank says if countries like Slovenia and Brazil can afford to offer free access to college, it can happen here if leaders make education a priority.

He admits a single day of protest won't magically win the group's three demands. He believes students will need to plan for a sustained effort and make strategic partnerships with such other movements as Black Lives Matter, organized labor, and the national "Fight for 15" minimum-wage effort.

"It's going to be a public pressure campaign that gets this won," he says. "And if we look at history, all major victories, for oppressed people and the working class in general, have come from mass public-pressure movements."

The Facebook event page for the University of New Mexico's Albuquerque campus calls for students to gather at Smith Plaza, outside the Zimmerman Library, on Thurs., Nov. 12, at 12:30 p.m.. New Mexico State University in Las Cruces also is planning an action.

Axelbank says if you don't see your campus on the list yet, there's still time to sign up at studentmarch.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NM