Just recently, Obama announced his plans to make community colleges free across the nation. The new measure he named “America’s College Promise” aims to provide free community college to those students “willing to work for it,” who maintain a 2.5 average, and are working toward a degree, either part-time or full-time. To finance this program, the federal government is expected to pay $60 billion over the next ten years, with an additional $20 billion for states who op-out of the program. The federal government will pay 75 percent of the program, while the states will pay the remaining 25 percent.
This move comes after years of rising costs to higher education, and the gargantuan growth of the student debt (which now surpasses credit card and car debt, only surpassed by mortgage debt). Colleges have increasingly become more unaffordable to millions of youth who graduate from high school every year, and this rings even more true in oppressed nationality neighborhoods where the rising cost of living in the cities have made college unattainable.
Here in New York City, the cost of our public education system, CUNY, has put an added burden to our people. On 2011, the Board of Trustees, the decision making body of the university, decided to raise tuition at the undergraduate level by $300 every semester for five years; that is, until Fall 2016. However, the university becoming more unaffordable is only the icing on the cake of a system that has become more and more inaccessible to the largely Black and Latino population. According to an article in The Atlantic, “Since it went through an aggressive, system-wide overhaul that began in 2000, the City University of New York’s top five colleges—Baruch, Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens, and City—have been raising admission standards and enrolling fewer freshmen from New York City high schools.” Due to racist SAT standards which favor more affluent white populations that can pay for SAT prep classes, Blacks and Latinos, including those that are valedictorians, are turn down from the top colleges of the university. Even in the less selective four year CUNY colleges, Latino and Black admissions have decreased by an average of 6 percent over the last decade.
The situation is then the following: On one side we have an opening to make higher education accessible to the majority of the population in the US. On the other side, we have a closing of the most selective colleges to the majority of oppressed nationality people. The reasons behind this glaring contradiction can be explained by understanding the development of capitalism and class relations in this country.
Obama’s proposal comes at very important juncture in capitalist development in the United States. Since the 1970s, the US has transformed from being an industrial superpower into a consumer economy. It has outsourced a lot of the manufacturing to places like China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, among others, to better exploit the workers in those countries. After World War II, the US implemented the GI bill to provide college education to its returning soldiers, and so drive the industrial boom that created, through war and conquest, the US economy we know today. However, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US saw little need to properly educate its population for it no longer needed to compete with a large super power. It opted instead to just base its local economy on services with little added value. But now, the US sees itself at risk of being overtaken by other rising superpowers like Russia and China. It now again sees the need to better educate its population to work its industry in the eminent event of inter-imperialist war.
Schools work as part of the machinery of the state. In a capitalist state, they will implant the ideas of the ruling class, fomenting competition and rewarding selfishness, rather than collaboration and solidarity. This is what we know as the ideological state apparatus, the ISA. However, schools are also places where the youth come into contact with new ideas, and learn things about their society that expose the contradictions present in it. It is in the colleges where many youth first learn about the nature of inequality, about poverty, about colonialism and imperialism, and about how the machinery of the state promotes, sustains, and facilitates the exploitative relations present in capitalist society. It is in the schools where radicals and revolutionaries can organize their fellow students and youth to fight for the interest of the people, the same way civil rights and black power organizers did in the 60s and the 70s.
The imperialist state knows they need a more educated population in order to sustain its dominance in the world. However, it also knows that by doing so it is hammering the last nails of its coffin. Knowledge is dangerous to the ruling elites, and with an educated youth that wants to organize its community to fight their oppressors, knowledge becomes a weapon to take power. Opening education in certain instances, and closing it in others is the way the state reconciles this divide, and aims to quell some of the social unrest that is soon to follow a more educated people.
Radicals and revolutionaries must use this opening as much to their advantage. As the US militarizes its society in preparation for imperialist war, the gap between the people and the capitalist state will become more glaring. By applying correct organizing methods (the mass line), by highlighting the contradictions when one sees them, by working with a wide range of ideologies for the sake of developing the movement, and by aiming to win over a wide range of the population to the cause instead of forming mountain kingdoms, we can soon develop a movement that can bring the state to its knees. We must do away with sectarianism that does a disservice to the people. Instead of intellectual masturbation, we must test out our ideas on the material world in order to develop better ideas. We must do away idealism, and instead use whatever works to further the struggle.
The student movement must not only fight for more access to education, but for direct control of our schools. We must aim to overthrow the capitalist interests that dictate the kind of education we receive, and seize the schools for the community. Controlling the schools will allow the people to educate themselves on their interests and how to attain them. It will allow for the development of a new generation of revolutionaries to take on the fight of overthrowing capitalism and imperialism.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win!