05/07/2013 04:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

We, the Students, Must Demand Solutions to the Debt Crisis

In six weeks I will be graduating from DePaul University with about $34,000 in student debt. This number is slightly higher than the average, but hasn't really worried me until this year. Taking out student loans is the only way I could attend DePaul. I thought if I took out the loans to get the right education, a good job would be waiting for me.

Now I know different. My June 16 graduation date looms and, rather than excitement, I feel dread. I've been working since I was 11-years-old. I've worked as a nanny while maintaining a full-time class schedule, and I -- like millions of other students -- am ready to put my gifts and talents to work to make the world a better place. If I could find a decent job, it would make my day. But living-wage jobs aren't easy to come by these days.

I'm not the only student to realize this, and students from across Chicago have begun to organize. We have a real concern for our immediate future -- where we're going to work and how we're going pay off our student debt. We are also deeply concerned about the future of our country and planet.

As student debt surpasses $1 trillion dollars our hopes for the future seem to be vanishing. This debt will be a drag on the economy -- our disposable income will be devoured by debt payments and we will delay buying homes and starting families.

The IIRON Student Network leaders decided that we must be the ones to demand solutions to this hot mess (a painfully accurate description considering that some degree of climate change is inevitable) that's been handed to us. And we need to start now, before it gets even worse.

The IIRON Student Network organized a public meeting with more than 500 students from five area campuses (Depaul University, Loyola University, North Park University, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Chicago -- photos here). Student leaders invited four university presidents and one chancellor to our meeting, but each of them declined.

The week after our public meeting, the IIRON Student Network sent a delegation of 20 students to Washington D.C. We met with the Undersecretary of Education, Martha Kanter, about executive policy solutions to student debt. We also had meetings with our elected officials. Representatives Danny Davis, Jan Schakwosky, Bobby Rush and Robin Kelly have agreed to co-sponsor HR 1330, the Student Loan Fairness Act.

IIRON student network leaders are heartened by the response of our elected officials, but angered by the apathy of our own university administrators. Our universities will take our money, but they will not hear our concerns. The fight has just begun.