College debt has become one of the new major issues in progressive economic discussions. But up to now activists have concentrated on policy issues with banks and other institutions that hold and control American debt.

But they’ve got a new strategy: confront the aid officers. According to an article at Inside Higher Ed:

Several dozen student activists [in New Orleans], staged strategically at a corner bar, finished their drinks, gathered their protest signs, and geared up for action.

The target? Hundreds of college financial aid officers who were parading — complete with Mardi Gras beads, marching band and police escort — through the French Quarter to celebrate the end of the second day of their annual gathering here.

That’s a little odd right there. Shouldn’t financial aid officers be operating more practically and hold their annual meeting at a hotel near the Cleveland airport or something? Oh well, I guess that’s for a different article.

“No cuts, no fees, education should be free,” the protesters from the Occupy-inspired Student Debt Collective chanted in repetition, throwing fake money at the financial aid officers and interrupting their parade with music.

The protest at the meeting of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) lasted less than an hour but it was enough to make everyone a little uncomfortable. The Debt Collective, a group that aims for free college and forgiveness of student loans, staged the protest. The Debt Collective first targeted officials from for-profit colleges but have now moved to address academic debt in general.

The organization no doubt found this sort of behavior rude and inappropriate, as it surely is. Justin Draeger, president of the financial aid officers’ association, objected to the group’s actions.

“None of the colleges here get money from lenders or servicers,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “It’s the wrong venue, unless they’re just using a big-name event to get their message out.”

He apparently added that financial aid officers were “on their side,”

No, they’re not. The Debt Collective is arguing for free college. College financial officers might not be as predatory as for-profit colleges, but they’ve presided over a vast increase in the average loan burden of the American college graduate over the last 30 years. U.S. student debt increased by some $77 billion last year alone. This is an increase that is, despite the opinions of some members of the NASFAA, actually a huge problem for American college graduates, even those who didn’t attend for-profit colleges.

This is a well-coordinated and understandable tactic. It’s these guys, after all, who are really responsible for the high debt loads that so many students now confront. It’s the people at NASFAA who could really make a difference if they tried seriously to reverse the trend.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer