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Students march for free tuition at Washington colleges

The Million Student March will take place at Western Washington University and South Seattle College, with students demanding free tuition. (AP)
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Students across America are on the march, including those at two Washington colleges, demanding free tuition and much more.

KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz isn’t among them.

“You already get tuition-free education in high school,” Rantz said. “College has always been an option, because it doesn’t always work for everyone. It’s something you choose to do to better yourself.”

Rantz believes that college is what is best for a person, but that it shouldn’t be free &#8212 especially if a student decides to get a degree that is not beneficial to the economy or their own bank account.

“If you’re willing to take out a $100,000 loan to get a photojournalism degree, or an English degree and you want to be a poet &#8212 I don’t want to stand in your way, good for you,” Rantz said. “But understand that you will not easily be able to pay that loan back.”

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“You are chasing an interest that doesn’t benefit society in any way,” he added. “If that’s your passion, great, do it on your own money.”

It comes down to what a person believes education is for, Rantz said.

“Their demands are informed by a certain belief,” Rantz said. “They believe that a free college education is a human right. That’s not based on any legal doctrine. It’s based on a moral belief. There’s no right or wrong answer to that. It’s an opinion.”

It’s an opinion promoted by Elan Axelbank, an organizer with the nationwide effort to get students marching. It’s also shared by students at Western Washington University in Bellingham, and South Seattle College who have planned marches of their own on Thursday.

“One of the fundamental tenants of our beliefs is that education is a human right for everybody,” Axelbank said. “And any society that doesn’t provide every person with the ability to obtain the highest level of education they desire, that is an inadequate society. As long as profit is infused into education, that is a problem.”

“Any society will function better if the population is more educated,” he said. “It will lead to a more prosperous society. On the moral side, as humans we have a desire to be knowledgeable people, and be well-rounded and everybody should be given the opportunity to do that and should not prevented by wealth or income inequality.”

The Million Student March is calling for more than just free tuition. The organization is also asking that all student debt in America be forgiven, and that all campus workers should receive a $15 minimum wage.

Rantz argues that shifting the costs from students &#8212 tuition and debt &#8212 is a bad idea.

“So me, being a responsible adult, aka a complete and total idiot because I paid back my student loan, I’m screwed,” Rantz said. “But the kids who made incredibly bad decisions to go to a college they can’t afford, and took out loans they had no intention of paying back &#8212 I’m supposed to pay for that?”

But it is increasingly difficult for students to come up with the money to pay for college, Axelbank said.

“The problem is that college is getting more and more expensive,” Axelbank said. “As state governments are slashing funding to colleges, those universities have to raise tuition to make up for that lack of funding. If you look at the rise in the cost of college in the past few years, it’s unbelievable.”

By canceling student debt and providing free tuition, Axelbank argues, it would free up funds for students suffering under debt after college.

“It’s putting it on the big banks who are hording the money and making trillions of dollars in profit off of interest rates,” Axelbank said. “It’s taking the responsibility off of taxpayers, a lot of whom are paying this debt. Over 40 million Americans have student debt.”

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