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Students Take to the Streets to Protest Ballooning Debt

A tag worn by Jacob Lowry, a student at the University of Southern Maine as he and others protest stA tag worn by Jacob Lowry, a student at the University of Southern Maine as he and others protest st
A tag worn by a student protesting high debt in AprilPhotograph by Shawn Patrick Ouellette — Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

College students across the U.S. are planning to walk out of their classrooms Thursday to raise awareness of the growing burden of student loan debt and campaign for better solutions.

The rally is part of the Million Student March, which has been gathering support for its “day of action” to push for its core demands: tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.

“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 group writes on its website. “We need change, and change starts in the streets when the people demand it.”

Student loan debt now totals $1.2 trillion, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Student loan debt now accounts for the second-highest type of personal debt, trailing only mortgages.

Seven in 10 seniors who graduated from college in 2014, including both public and private universities, walked away with a diploma and an average of $28,950 in student debt, according to the Project on Student Debt. The average debt at graduation over the past decade has grown at more than twice the rate of inflation.

The issue has also taken center stage in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has promised free tuition at public universities, while rival Hillary Clinton planned to increase access to tuition grants as well as the ability to refinance existing loans at lower interest rates. Republican candidate Marco Rubio wants to simplify the application for federal aid and revamp the income-based repayment system for federal loans.