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Onward Debates: You Should Be Pissed and Occupy

If you still believe there is no reason for thousands of people to be occupying Wall Street, you either haven’t checked the facts or you’re that douchebag who brings a six-pack of Stella Artois to a frat party.

While the pissed off, the unemployed and the grossly in debt air their grievances, some still choose to let the air out of the tires of a rolling revolution. Despite hundreds of protests of solidarity popping up around the country, the contented decide to continue to ride out their mom and dad’s bank account and ally with the corrupt 1% who have driven our nation into record financial dismay.

Now, the Occupy Wall Street movement has migrated from the financial district of New York City to Happy Valley. Starting yesterday, students from several on-campus activism organizations began hosting a week-long occupation of the HUB called Occupy Penn State. The group invites all “sick of this shit” students to get their blankets and djembe drums to join in solidarity with the protesters at Wall Street and all across the nation.

However, as support begins to materialize,  the opposition has also moved closer to home.

“What are these hippies even fighting for?” is the most common complaint among naysayers. Despite the organization’s demands being posted on their website, some people still choose to veil their apathy with the argument that #OWS is a directionless cause.

However, I’ll entertain the notion that the Occupy movement has vague and scattered grievances. This amorphous structure only adds to the group’s broad appeal. Without a central figurehead or clear demands, localized dissent becomes dominant to a complicated and rigid structure—kind of like the tax codes and political jargon that got us into this mess in the first place.

Occupy is a democratic movement—fueled by the people for the people. Now, as it becomes #OccupyPennState, the demands have shifted to the personal grievances of the student community.

Though the organizers of Occupy Penn State have expressed solidarity with the original struggle of overhauling corporate greed, tuition has become the centerpiece of the campus movement. After newly elected Republican Governor Tom Corbett announced debilitating cuts to public education appropriations last semester, the image of corruption and greed has been shifted from CEOs and bankers to our own alma mater’s administration.

Tuition has inflated at a faster rate than medical care, real estate, and general commodities by a noticeable amount. While the national inflation rate is around 3.5%, the cost of an education has risen by 7.45% in the past 30 years. To put that number in perspective, the new homes market—the industry that created the “housing bubble,” the culprit for the 2008 financial crash—has only seen a 4.3% inflation rate in respect to mortgage costs in the past 30 years.

Penn State, independently, has been a poster child for greed in higher education. In the fall of 2000, it would cost a full-time in-state student around $3,273 a semester. Just 10 years later, enrollment in the fall 2010 semester would cost a full-time in-state student $7,206. That is an increase of 120.16% in just a decade. And the $7,206 price tag is excluding the extra $500 you’re charged to be an upperclassman or the $1,000 for enrollment in business, science, IST, or engineering majors, or even the over $2,000 additional cost of the nursing program.

That 120.16% hike seems even more absurd when put in perspective. The rate of increase for Penn State tuition is around 4.5 times higher than the inflation of general commodities throughout the same decade (2000-2010) which saw a 26.6% rate of increase.

If that data doesn’t send you to the HUB with a sleeping bag and a picket sign, maybe the arguments of the opposition will.

One dispute I heard was that the increase of tuition merely reflects the cost of advancements in technology required for education. However, this argument doesn’t match up to the facts. A 550 MHz laptop in 2000 would run a price tag of $1,300 or $1,633 in today’s currency. That same laptop come 2009 would not even exist. In its place would be a laptop of twice as much computing power with a price tag of around $634. Technology is one of the things in our economy that has actually gotten cheaper while increasing in quality.

Another argument for Penn State’s out-of-control tuition hikes is that state funding has been slowly withering away. This also doesn’t match up with the numbers. In the face of Gov. Corbett’s $63 million in cuts to Penn State’s appropriations, the University saw the lowest increase in tuition in a decade.

Though tuition is a major problem, paying off the debt the tuition drives you into is a whole other story. As a college student, you think that a job will just be waiting for you once your four years at Penn State are up. There’s this idea that your degree is like a “free employment” ticket.

However, that also doesn’t match up with the facts. While national unemployment rates hover around 9.1%, the rate of unemployment for young adults is estimated at 19%. Last summer also had the worst recorded teen unemployment in recent history.

Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you’re in demand. In this economy, there are enough experienced people already looking for jobs. The degree you drove yourself into a shithole of debt for doesn’t mean as much as past job history.

And even if you do land a job, good luck working your way up the ladder. The United States ranks 93rd in the world for “income equality.” We’re actually 3 spots behind Iran and almost 50 behind the recently toppled dictatorship of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. There is 350 times discrepancy between CEO and average worker’s incomes along with a recent stagnation of social mobility.

That means if you’re not blowing a hedge fund investor or related to Warren Buffett, you may just find yourself on the streets with the “lazy hippies” using your business degree as rolling paper.

This is my plea to those 95% of Americans who aren’t in control of 70% of the national wealth: Occupy Penn State.

The original Occupy movement started as a bullhorn for the people who aren’t rich enough to run an ad campaign or get a lobbyist on K Street. Now, Occupy Penn State is a chance for students to find they’re voices and challenge the corruption thriving in the higher ed system.

Instead of throwing Ben Bernanke in the guillotine, why not ask Graham Spanier if he’d like to explain where our student loan money is going? Instead of getting pissed at Wall Street, why aren’t we kicking in the doors of Old Main? Penn State is ranked as the 13th best publicly funded university, but our head honcho is taking home the 5th fattest paycheck. Where is the logic in that?

Get pissed. Get active. This is your movement. Occupy Penn State.

For the other side of the debate, check out Why Occupying Should Stop.

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