A group of student debt activists appeared to be protesting the wrong group at a financial aid conference in New Orleans on Monday.
A parade following the second day of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) conference was disrupted by protestors from the Debt Collective, a group that demands a free college education for everyone.
“No cuts, no fees, education should be free,” the student protestors reportedly chanted, throwing fake money at the college financial aid officers.
Many of the financial aid officers were confused because NASFAA's mission is to increase access to higher education by simplifying student financial aid systems and supporting need-based aid.
“You’re protesting the wrong people,” said one administrator. “We give scholarships to students. I don’t get your argument.”
Debt Collective organizer Ann Larson told Inside Higher Ed that the group is trying to broaden its campaign beyond protesting Corinthian Colleges and for-profit institutions, to “address systemic causes” of student loan debt.
“[NASFAA] isn’t the problem, but they are simply one node in an industry and system that works against students,” she said.
Larson also faulted NASFAA for not considering the option of free college in any of their discussions at the conference.
The Debt Collective took matters into its own hands, falsely claiming that they won NASFAA’s “big idea” policy challenge with their plan to make college free. The actual winner of the challenge wasn’t announced until the following day.
“Free higher education is possible, even the student loan industry agrees!” the group declared in a blog post.
The Debt Collective even created a fake Twitter account impersonating NASFAA to endorse its proposal.
We endorse the Debt Collective's proposal -- everyone can go to school for free http://t.co/fIvyXeHlL7 #NASFAA2015 pic.twitter.com/837FdXZcuN— nasfaa (@NASFAA15) July 20, 2015
Justin Draeger, president of the financial aid officers’ association was confused why the students chose to protest their meeting, and said the two groups are on the same side.
“As far as I can tell, they’re advocating for debt-free education, which is great. I admire that there is a grassroots effort trying to get at a debt-free education,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “But after watching them troll our Twitter account, steal our logo and set up a fake account, their tactics sort of muddy their message.”