Is Education a Human Right or a Privilege for the Wealthy? (2024)

Over the last 40 years, higher education in the United States has been transformed into a commodity that produces automatons to serve big-finance capitalism, prevents campuses from being a source of societal transformation and creates modern indentured servants through debt slavery.

Today, there is over $1 trillion in college debt with graduates entering a job market that cannot fully employ them, resulting in rapidly rising defaults. In fact, while tuition has grown 72 percent since 2000, employment for graduates with bachelor degrees has declined by almost 15 percent over the same time period.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed on December 10, 1948, and ratified by the United States, declares that, “Everyone has the right to education” and declares higher education “shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” The purpose of education is broader than creating workers for big business; it is to “be directed to the full development of the human personality.”

Unfortunately, rather than treating education as a right, the United States has moved in the opposite direction to treat it as a commodity. As a result, education has become entangled with big finance. Author Danny Weil describes private for-profit educational institutions such as Phoenix University as behaving like a criminal cartel that target poor and working-class students who are eligible for federally insured student loans, writing: They set up at welfare offices, hang out at laundromats in low-income neighborhoods, recruit at public housing units, and their ‘recruiters’ patrol the streets of distressed neighborhoods in automobiles or on foot, looking for vulnerable working-class bodies they can register for government cash.”

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Once entangled in the debt trap, student debtors are kept there by big finance’s deceptive and dirty tricks. Accountant Lynn Petrovich described some of big finance’s tricks: holding payments made online for two to four business days, which adds thousands of dollars in interest paid by borrowers over the life of the loan; if there is more than one loan, the one with the lowest interest is paid off first while the other accumulates interest; and they tell people that they are delinquent when they aren’t so that they can charge penalties. Petrovich reported that in the last nine months, Sally Mae, which is a private corporation named SLM and is the largest student loan provider, had over a half billion in profits.

The debt trap also makes students and graduates insecure and easier to control. In the 1960s, college campuses were the source of unrest seeking equal rights for women and minorities, environmental protection, an end to the Vietnam War and transformation of the economy. People in power expressed concern. President Nixon’s education adviser, Roger Freeeman, urged in 1970 that, “We have to be selective about who we allow to go through higher education because “We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat.”

In 1971, before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Lewis Powell wrote a confidential memo to the US Chamber of Commerce urging defense of free enterprise and noted, “a priority task of business – and organizations such as the Chamber – is to address the campus origin of this hostility.” He laid out a plan for big business to take control of the direction of the country. Regarding campuses, he highlighted the power business had over universities because they relied on “(i) tax funds generated largely from American business, and (ii) contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business.”

“The boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the [business] system,” wrote Powell.

Debra Leigh Scott describes how higher education has been destroyed in five easy steps. The defunding of higher education opened the door to greater influence by corporations. It also weakened students by increasing tuition, which saddled them with high debt in a poor job market. Professors were weakened by moving them from solid, tenured to fragile, adjunct positions with low job security and low wages, while the number of corporate administrative managers who are paid high salaries and consulting fees expanded. For example, three dozen college presidents earned over $1 million last year. Former senator Bob Kerrey earned $3 million at the New School in New York despite a multi-million dollar shortfall in the school budget. Harvard’s top endowment managers now make about 20 times what a professor makes, with the top endowment manager making $3 million.

What is to be done about it? The consensus of people we have talked to is that in the long run, education advocates need to seek free college education as a human right, not a privilege for the wealthy. More immediately, students and their supporters need to organize for a debt jubilee, and if ignored, organize debt strikes; adjunct professors need to organize to demand security; and government needs to increase funding for higher education.

Students at Cooper Union in New York City are aggressively protesting a plan being put forward to end free education at the school. They occupied the Peter Cooper Suite on the eighth floor of the school for a week and organized protests that brought the community to their side. Students also occupied a board of trustees meeting, demanding transparency and participation in decision-making while livestreaming and blogging the event.

They allied themselves with the Quebec student movement which successfully fought tuition increases. US student activists have adopted the color of the Quebec student movement, red, in their banners and symbols.

Other students are beginning to burn their loan papers in a “Burn the Bill” campaign which threatens to grow as more people learn the facts about abusive loans, predatory practices and high administrative overhead.

We doubt that Congress will respond in a meaningful way until the student movement grows and becomes even more assertive. As Sen. Durbin once said, “The bankers own the place.” Congress is another area where students are engaging this issue. The nonprofit higher education reform group Student Debt Crisis is promoting HR 4170, The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, which would be a partial step in solving the debt problem.

Student loans are one aspect of the predatory loan economy, which was the primary cause of the housing collapse and has resulted in massive credit card debt at usury rates. Students in Canada quickly learned that their tuition problems were part of a broader austerity environment of the finance-based capitalist economy. Many students in the US also recognize that their tuition and student debt crises are connected to the broader problems in the economy and government. Student activism is one more sign of a culture of resistance that is developing and threatening the abusive power structure.

Education, like health care and other public goods, is under attack in the neoliberal agenda that treats everything as a commodity. More people, including students, recognize that access to free, high-quality education is not only a human right that does not belong in the marketplace, but is also better for the economy and the society as a whole. The actions of students at Cooper Union and around the world are stimulating important discussions in communities about whether we are going to treat higher education as a right for all or a privilege for the wealthy few.

For more information, the Clearing the FOG Radio Show has covered this issue in two shows:

Predatory Student Lending and the Financialization of Education
Tyler Paige, one of 11 students occupying a suite at Cooper Union demanding that the college continue to offer free education. Lynn Petrovich, CPA, author of “Sticker Shock,” exposes the fraudulent practices of Sallie Mae and other corporate student lenders. And author Danny Weil exposes the financialization of education, the monetization of students, the collusion between government and corporations, Obama’s neoliberal education agenda and what we can do about it.

The Crisis of Student Debt and the Corporatization of Higher Education
Guests are
Kyle McCarthy, fellow at the Backbone Campaign and co-founder with Natalia Abrams of Student Debt Crisis, discuss the crisis of student loan debt. Debra Leigh Scott, who blogs as the Homeless Adjunct, is writing a book and movie called “Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed in America.” And, Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog talks about de-funding public universities, which opens a vacuum for corporations to use universities to legitimize their propaganda.

Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC.

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Is Education a Human Right or a Privilege for the Wealthy? (2024)


Do you believe that education is a privilege or a right in the United States? ›

Yes! All kids living in the United States have the right to a free public education. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen.

Is the right to education a human right? ›

Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.

Is a college education a right or a privilege? ›

Acceptance requires more than just a high GPA or stellar grades. Because of these “requirements” to obtain a college degree, a college education is a privilege. Overall, not all students have the financial means to attend college; they need to work hard and put forth an effort to achieve their educational goals.

Is education a right all over the world? ›

It is enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to education.”

Where does it say education is a right? ›

Over the years, the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution has had an enormous impact on protecting individual rights in public elementary and secondary education.

Does everyone in America have the right to education? ›

The United States Constitution doesn't explicitly guarantee a right to public education, but that doesn't mean that it can't help ensure that all students are able to access an equal educational experience.

Why isn't education a human right? ›

Education does not rise to the level of a basic human right. The value of an education is high both individually, as well as socially, but society has no right to enforce its collective desires on others. Society can encourage but not compel.

Is education a human right and is it equal for everyone? ›

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education.

Why is education so important? ›

It helps people become better citizens, get a better-paid job, shows the difference between good and bad. Education shows us the importance of hard work and, at the same time, helps us grow and develop. Thus, we are able to shape a better society to live in by knowing and respecting rights, laws, and regulations.

What is qualified privilege in education? ›

Qualified privilege is a legal right that protects someone from being sued for something they did while performing a legal or moral duty. It is not an absolute protection like absolute privilege, which protects someone no matter what they did.

Is higher education a right? ›

The right to education was established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. However, the right to higher education has received less attention than other levels, even though it is a public good that should be available to all as part of the lifelong process of learning.

What is student privilege? ›

A privilege is something that a student is allowed but is not automatically given to the student just for showing up. Privileges are earned through good behavior, good attendance and academic progress.

Why should education be free? ›

Free College Increases Graduation Rates and Financial Security. Free tuition programs appear to improve students' chances of completing college. For example, Harris noted that his research found a meaningful link between free college tuition and higher graduation rates.

Where is the right to education being violated? ›

In Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, a surge in threats and attacks against students, teachers and schools – on education itself – is casting a foreboding shadow upon children, their families, their communities and society at large ...

How education changes human? ›

With a higher quality of education, more complex tasks can be solved, and behavior suffers less from fewer mistakes. The positive side effects spread into everyday life and social relations.

When was education made a right? ›

According to Indian constitution under 86th Amendment act 2002, There is right to free and compulsory education up to 6–14 years of age.

Why is education not in the US Constitution? ›

Education is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, and for good reason. The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society.

Why is education equality important? ›

Equality in education is necessary for students to have the same opportunities to start off with positive educational outcomes, and equity helps to make sure those equal opportunities are adjusted to make room for students who might need extra help and attention.

Is the U.S. the only country with free education? ›

Countries, including Austria, the Republic of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden, offer free education for certain nationalities and/or certain degrees.

Does every state have a right to education? ›

The U.S. Constitution is silent on the subject of education, but every state constitution includes language that mandates the establishment of a public education system.

Do states have the right to education? ›

Federal Role in Education. Education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States. It is States and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation.

Is education a negative right? ›

Some States, like California, have said that education is a “right,” as was decided in Serrano v. Priest (Cal. 1977). What the California Supreme Court meant by this is that every child has a “right” to a basic education level, and the government has to provide this education through adequate public schools.

Is education an unalienable rights? ›

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are our unalienable rights. But where does education fit in? It may be surprising, but the right to a quality education is not considered a constitutional right in the United States, even though it is included in all 50 states' constitutions.

What human rights is everyone equal? ›

The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This means that we are all equally entitled to our human rights. This principle, as first emphasized in the UDHR, is repeated in many international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions.

What does the 10th Amendment say about education? ›

However the 10th Amendment states that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people. Thus, education became a function of the state rather than the federal government.

How does education affect life? ›

Education can also lead to more accurate health beliefs and knowledge, and thus to better lifestyle choices, but also to better skills and greater self-advocacy. Education improves skills such as literacy, develops effective habits, and may improve cognitive ability.

What are the 4 purposes of education? ›

As you think about the four basic purposes of school: academic (intellectual), political and civic purposes, socialization, and economic purposes, what do you think? Which one (or more) do you find as primary purposes of schooling in your own personal philosophy?

Why education is more important than ever? ›

Today, there is agreement that education, independent of innate ability, helps spur innovation and technology, and it contributes to productivity and economic growth. A key element in this process is that education is important to adopt the technology that produces innovation.

What are the three levels of privilege? ›

The three main RISC-V privilege levels are user mode, supervisor mode, and machine mode, in order of increasing privilege.

What is an example of a qualified privilege? ›

Situations in which a qualified privilege may apply include statements made in self-defense or to protect the safety of others, statements by an employer to a former employee's prospective employer, and reports of official proceedings.

Is college a basic human right? ›

International laws declare education to be an inherent human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights both establish the right to free primary education that is accessible for all. Equitable access to higher education is also emphasized.

Is a right to an education mentioned in the US Constitution? ›

While education may not be a "fundamental right" under the Constitution, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment requires that when a state establishes a public school system (as in Texas), no child living in that state may be denied equal access to schooling.

What is higher education considered? ›

Higher education includes a wide range of institutions providing study beyond the level of secondary education, such as colleges and universities, community colleges, and vocational and technical schools.

Why is college a privilege? ›

Higher education began as a privileged institution, designed to advance a certain kind of student and exclude others. Although generations have fought to broaden access to colleges and universities, privilege continues to shape higher learning in the 21st century.

What rights do you believe you have as a student? ›

A student shall have the right to participate in a free exchange of ideas, and there shall be no University rule or administrative rule that in any way abridges the rights of freedom of speech, expression, petition and peaceful assembly as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

What is privilege in high school? ›

Privilege Includes Unearned Advantages That Are Highly Valued but Restricted to Certain Groups. Unearned advantages are those that someone receives by identifying or being born into a specific group.

Should education be free pros and cons? ›

Why Should College Be Free?
Pro's of Tuition Free CollegeCon's of Tuition Free College
Reduces student debtIncrease in taxes
Improved college graduation ratesCollege may not be taken seriously
More freedom to choose a major you enjoyCollege education could decrease in quality
1 more row

Should students be paid for good grades? ›

Paying for grades is positive reinforcement, not punishment. Positive reinforcement encourages kids and shows that you appreciate the hard work it takes to get good grades. Kids will strive harder to hit those goals since they will want the reward.

How does free college increase equality? ›

Free college tuition programs have proved effective in helping mitigate the system's current inequities by increasing college enrollment, lowering dependence on student loan debt and improving completion rates, especially among students of color and lower-income students who are often the first in their family to ...

How many children do not have access to education? ›

A staggering 78 million girls and boys around the world today “don't go to school at all” because of conflict, climate disasters and displacement – while tens of millions more receive only sporadic teaching - UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday.

What is a reason kids might not go to school? ›

Children might refuse to go to school because of worries about leaving home, learning difficulties, social problems or other reasons. The best way to get children back to school is by working as a team with the school. If school refusal is related to anxiety or depression, children might need mental health support.

What is a famous quote about education? ›

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” —Malcolm X. As this famous quote begins, “Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights.

What are the consequences of not being educated? ›

Uneducated people struggle to fit in social situations, and often remain marginalized. The lack of resources generated by education prevents them from participating in numerous social activities in a productive and comprehensive way, in contrast to educated people who engage in the same activities without difficulty.

How does education impact society? ›

Those who get an education have higher incomes, have more opportunities in their lives, and tend to be healthier. Societies benefit as well. Societies with high rates of education completion have lower crime, better overall health, and civic involvement. Lack of access to education is considered the root of poverty.

Why is it important to have education? ›

Education is important to people's personal growth. Education can help people better understand themselves. They can learn about themselves through books, courses, or even professional advice. Education informs people about the world, what's going on, and who's around.

Is public education in the United States is not as strong as it is in other countries? ›

There is ample evidence to suggest that American schools perform worse than schools in many other countries. The U.S. ranks toward the bottom of the industrialized nations on international tests of academic achievement in science and mathematics.

What is the purpose of education in the United States? ›

In broad terms, the U.S. education system has as its goal the establishment of a quality education that will enable all children to achieve their highest potential as individuals, serve effectively as citizens of a free society, and successfully compete in a changing global marketplace.

How many states have a right to education? ›

In recent years, education provisions have been the basis for school finance court cases. Of the 50 state constitutions, nine states require public education for students with disabilities, 37 include language regarding religious restrictions and 30 speak to the establishment of higher education.

Why is education not a fundamental right? ›

There is not a single mention of education in the U.S. Constitution. The establishment of education is one of the powers reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. Education is not a constitutionally protected right. That is an assertion made by the U.S. Supreme Court every time it has been challenged.

Who owns the rights to the American education system? ›

The federal government is responsible for ensuring that state education laws and school practices comply with the Constitution of the United States. This includes protecting the Constitutional rights of students, ensuring students have equal access to education, and governing the presence of religion in schools.

What is the problem with the U.S. education system? ›

Our schools are overcrowded.

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 14 percent of U.S. schools exceed capacity. At a time where children need more attention than ever to succeed, overcrowded classrooms are making it even tougher to learn and tougher still for teachers to be effective.

Why is there education inequality in the US? ›

Disparities in academic access among students in the United States are the result of several factors including: government policies, school choice, family wealth, parenting style, implicit bias towards the race or ethnicity of the student, and the resources available to the student and their school.

What state has the worst education system in the United States? ›

West Virginia is the least educated U.S. state, with an overall score of 23.15. West Virginia ranks last for Educational Attainment with the lowest shares of people with associate's degrees or some college experience and those with bachelor's degrees, at 20.6%.


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