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College students echo Occupy Wall Street with protests

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - Anger at high tuition bills and a lack of jobs propelled U.S. college students into streets and quadrangles on Thursday in the latest offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

The "National Student Solidarity Protest" was organized by Los Angeles-based Occupy Colleges, which estimated it held events at about 140 campuses in at least 25 states.

A smaller-scale action from one week ago gained momentum with the aid of social media, some old-fashioned shoe leather and dorm-room word-of-mouth, organizers said.

"Our goals are in direct solidarity with Occupy Wall Street," said Natalia Abrams, facilitator for Occupy Colleges, adding that the protest was not "anti-school."

Students across the country staged coordinated sit-ins, banner hangings, marches and walkouts.

"We're angry about the amount of debt we must attain to go to college and the drastic lack of employment opportunities," said Sally Morgan, a graduate student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Protesters were worried about what they see as a lack of social mobility in the United States.

Research from Rutgers University in May showed college graduates are struggling: taking longer to get jobs, taking employment that did not typically need a college education, and earning a lot less than expected.

"It's more about waking up to this idea that this American dream -- that if you work hard (and) go to college you can be propelled into the top tiers of society -- just isn't true," Morgan said.

Greg Shaw, political science professor at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, warned that protests about tuition costs may not have staying power.

"The reasons for tuition being so high is not an easy target. You can't just blame East Coast investment bankers or Tim Geithner," he said.

"I don't know if college campuses can sustain a level of outrage," he added. "At the end of the semester, they have exams and go home."

Still, seeing action on campuses suggests the movement could put down deeper roots than, for example, protests this year against Scott Walker, Wisconsin's anti-union governor. said Marshall Ganz, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard.

"All through history, young people have had a special role in social change movements," Ganz said.

On Thursday, some students joined up with larger Occupy groups. Groups from Emerson College and Wellesley college came to the Occupy Boston encampment near the Boston Federal Reserve Bank.

Jeffrey Juris, associate professor of anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston, said Occupy Wall Street has already inspired on-campus discussions and rallies.

"Students and recent graduates who may be underemployed or unemployed, who have the impetus and the time to be involved, are among the groups at the forefront of this," said Juris.

Juris has spent time at Occupy Boston and offered extra credit to students who observe the encampment and provide an analysis related to course themes.

Schools taking part ranged from Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts, where students handed out flyers, to Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, to Michigan State University in East Lansing and Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.

Also on the list was Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, where four unarmed college students were killed and nine wounded when National Guardsmen opened fire in May 1970 during a protest against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

Those killings were memorialized in the iconic protest song "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Shaw said Occupy Colleges had a long way to go before rivaling the massive Vietnam War-era protests like Kent State that shook the country.

"You were protesting then about possibly being sent away to have your head shot off," he said.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston, Matthew Ward in Virginia, Zach Howard in North Conway, MA, and David Cay Johnston in New York)

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