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Rich College Presidents, Strapped Students

Last year, the top ten U.S. university presidents made a combined $21 million. That's a lot, except when you consider what athletic coaches often make. For example, Mack Brown -- the football coach at the University of Texas in Austin -- made $5.3 million in 2012. 

These numbers are disturbing given the avalanche of evidence that higher education is becoming less affordable, burying students in debt, and that colleges are doing a worse and worse job of recruiting talented poor kids -- as the the New York Times reported last week. Also, as we've written here, the labor practices of universities have grown more unfair, with schools leaning heavily on underpaid adjunct professors and grad student teaching assistants who have little say over working conditions. 

Education itself, which many considered a right thirty years ago, has become a market product. University presidents are, in the end, fundraisers, soliciting large donations and encouraging students to take out loans that will take decades to pay back. The costs of tuition, which are cleverly obscured for low-income students, slam students years after they graduate, once they realize what paying off, say, $30,000 in student debt means.

And if students resemble the unqualified homeowners of the bubble years, executives at universities and student loan companies are the CEOs of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Countrywide Financial. The corporatization of universities was underscored last month when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that it would begin an inquiry into the marriage between universities and financial institutions that advertise credit cards and loan deals to students.

Students, as a way of responding to silent universities, have turned to alterative forums to express their anger. Occupy Student Debt, which came out of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, is a blog that collects testimonies from young people struggling to pay for their education.

In the latest post, a 30-year-old woman with $120,000 in student debt describes the unfolding reality of what it means to have debt. It was her high school English teacher, she says, who encouraged her to overlook the costs of attendance.

“So many of us were told the same things,” writes the anonymous woman. “We were advised to major in what we love, and we were assured that our degree alone would be enough to earn us a job that would provide for us and our dreams, as well as make paying off student loans a non-issue.

“It’s like we all got caught between two very different worlds: the world of. . . the American dream and our world of exploited youth and dreams deferred.

“Knowing now what I didn’t know then is heart-breaking,” she writes about her high school years, “and I honestly cannot say I would encourage these future generations to go to college over any other career preparation options they might have. Education should be a right, not a privilege, and education in this country has become nothing more than just another greedy business preying on misinformed and financially clueless youth.   

“The grim truth is that universities and student loans are no longer creating the American dream,” she says finally, “they are destroying it, one wide-eyed dreamer at a time.”