Students across US to march over debt, free public college

Students March Over Debt, Free Public College


Students were set to walk out of classrooms across the United States on Thursday to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges and a minimum wage hike for campus workers.

The demonstrations are planned just two days after thousands of fast-food workers took to the streets in a nationwide day of action pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for the industry.

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Events for Thursday's protests, dubbed the Million Student March, have been planned at colleges and universities from Los Angeles to New York. Thousands of people signed up to attend on Facebook groups, though it remained to be seen how many would ultimately participate.

"Education should be free. The United States is the richest country in the world, yet students have to take on crippling debt in order to get a college education," the movement's organizers said in a statement on their website.

Organizers are demanding tuition-free public colleges, a cancellation of all student debt and a $15-an-hour minimum wage for campus workers.

The total volume of outstanding U.S. student loan debt has more than doubled to $1.2 trillion, according to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, compared with less than $600 billion in 2006.

The bureau said there are some 8 million private and federal loan borrowers in default, representing more than $110 billion, while millions more are finding it difficult to keep up with repayments.

Saddled with debt that can sometimes run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, many college graduates have struggled to make payments amid an ailing economy and job market.

Dealing with swiftly mounting student loan debt has been a focus of candidates vying for the White House in 2016.

Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has vowed to make tuition free at public universities and colleges, and has pledged to cut interest rates for student loans.

His rival Hillary Clinton has said she would increase access to tuition grants, let graduates refinance loans at lower interest rates, and streamline income-based repayment plans.

See photos of Sanders and Clinton at the most recent Democratic debate:

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Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton duking it out during Democratic debates
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Students across US to march over debt, free public college
MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.The debate is the final debate before the Nevada caucuses scheduled for February 20. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NH - FEBRUARY 04: Democratic presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during their MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016 in Durham, New Hampshire. This is the final debate for the Democratic candidates before the New Hampshire primaries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, left, and Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, participate in the first Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. While tonight's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Josh Haner/Pool via Bloomberg
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the end of a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is the most prominent Republican candidate to lay out a concrete proposal, saying he would establish an income-based repayment system for federal student loans, and would simplify the application process for federal aid.

"This is clearly an urgent crisis, but establishment politicians from both parties are failing to take action," their statement said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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