College students should use their power in 2016


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

It is clear that Republican policymakers are afraid of college students, especially at the state level.

Aside from racial minorities, no group has been more targeted by the recent string of voter restriction measures across the country.

North Carolina has sadly been a major center for this. This is the year our voter ID law goes into effect even as it is challenged in court. In Boone, we have had a years-long tug of war over an on-campus voting site.

These attempts are actually quite flattering. College students and young people in general are often criticized for not participating enough, and the criticism is not entirely unfair.

The fact that political leaders would fear the student vote is a testament to the power that students have, power that they should use.

We saw an illustration of that power earlier this week. The Democratic caucuses were historically close, with only .3 percent separating “winner” Hillary Clinton from Bernie Sanders.

Another amazing number to come out of the caucuses was the exit polling result that 84 percent of voters aged 17 to 29 supported Sanders according to NBC.

This election presents a great opportunity for that. For the first time that I can remember, issues relating to higher education have become a major issue in this election, at least for one major party.

Whether it is Sanders’ tuition-free college at public universities or Hillary Clinton’s debt-free college proposal, we have serious policy proposals on an issue that is critical not just for students, but for the nation.

Numerous studies and reports have documented the toll student loan debt has on the economy. Debt burdens bring down the entire economy by the way they limit people’s ability to buy things.

The 2013 American Student Assistance Survey revealed that 27 percent of those surveyed had trouble buying essentials and 75 percent pushed back the decision to purchase a home.

So it is good news that student debt is becoming a prominent campaign issue, but that is not the only reason higher education should have a higher profile in national politics.

Many of the problems in higher education are the same as those facing the society as whole. The major questions over what the role of government should be and how much power corporate entities should have in those systems are critical both for the future of colleges and the nation as a whole.

In a time where public support for colleges is dropping and all sorts of corporate-based solutions are being proposed to make up for the deficit, the interests of college students and other citizens are closely connected.

This is the perfect time for college students to assert their power and become involved through voting and activism at all levels of government. It will not just help us a group, but help us move our society in a more positive direction.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is the opinion editor.