Non-profit supports student debt forgiveness

By Marissa Novel

Graduation day marks a new beginning for some students, but it also marks the beginning of payments for others.

With student debt at an all-time high, one not-for-profit organization, Rolling Jubilee, is buying debt from banks that give student loans to show debt forgiveness is possible.

An assembly discussing debt will be held from noon to 3 p.m., Wednesday outside the north side of the Student Center, near Faner Hall. The assembly is in conjunction with Rolling Jubilee’s fourth “debt buy day.”


Rolling Jubilee is a not-for-profit project affiliated with the Strike Debt organization that buys debt from banks for a fraction of its worth, but then asks for nothing in return from the debtors.

“Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors and then abolishing it,” its website states.

The average student loan debt for graduates in Illinois is around $28,000, with the average monthly payment near $300 for more than seven years, according to Reboot Illinois, a non-partisan civic group.

National student debt is at an all time high of $1.2 trillion, making it the only consumer debt category among home equity, credit card and auto loans to continue to increase since 2008, according to the Credit Union Times.

Nick Smaligo, a graduate student in philosophy from Carbondale, will moderate conversations among debtors about their experiences and how debt has changed student values, while teaching people about Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt.

“In the past, a number of people that come to the university engage in questions of how the world ought to be, of the ideals of equality, of justice, that a country like the United States pays lip service to,” he said. “Nowadays, people come here to get a job.”

Ann Larson, an organizer of Strike Debt and Rolling Jubilee, said she has been involved with the organization since it was created from the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012.


She said Strike Debt began with the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, which created an Internet pledge asking people to stop paying their student loans.

“In the early days, we could have had a debt strike model in mind, or at least the threat of a debt strike,” she said. “And we thought that by threatening to do that we could make a lot of people pay attention to us and change the system for the better.”

Kevin Sylwester, associate professor of economics, said organizations like Rolling Jubilee help people individually, but do not have a lasting effect.

“The financial institutions who gave these loans are still taking a hit,” he said.

Sylwester said when student defaults are high, banks benefit from getting even a fraction of the debt repaid.

“Something is better than nothing, so they’re willing to do it,” he said.

Sylwester said banks that grant private loans could possibly give students less financial aid if they continually do not receive their borrowed amounts in full.

Thomas Gokey, a Strike Debt organizer said in two years, Rolling Jubilee has abolished more than $17.4 billion in debt.

Larson said Rolling Jubilee generated funds to buy debt through crowd funding and an Internet telethon hosted in New York in November 2012, where musicians, comedians and artists performed. She said the telethon had a goal of $60,000 and generated $700,000.

“We weren’t sure if people would be into the idea of buying people’s debt, but it turns out they were,” she said. “People really understand that so many debts are illegitimate, they’re unjust. People are going into debt for medicine, for school, for things they shouldn’t really be going into debt for because these things should be available to all of us.”

Gokey said specific information on debtors is limited.

“Before we buy the debt, we don’t know whose debt we’re buying,” he said. “We know what kind of debt it is, we know the amount of debt, we know how much it’s going to cost to buy it and we might know the geographic location of the debtor.”

For-profit debt buying companies go through the same process before the debt is sold.

Gokey said Strike Debt estimated it would take $12.4 billion to make all two and four-year universities free.

“We’ve got the money, we’ve got plenty of money,” he said. “If we just lowered the budget for bombs and F-35 fighter jets that don’t even work, we could have universal free education.”

Marissa Novel can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268