Labor Takes on the Fight for Affordable Higher Education

AFT VP Sandra SchroederToday at the AFL-CIO convention, AFT Vice President, Sandra Schroeder, who is also the chair of AFT’s higher education program and policy council, introduced the resolution “Addressing the Increasing Burden of Student Debt and Supporting High-Quality Public Higher Education.” Here are her full remarks about why the labor movement needs to reclaim the promise of an accessible, affordable, high quality higher education for all students.

Remarks of AFT Vice-president Sandra Schroeder at the AFL-CIO convention

My name is Sandra Schroeder. I am the chair of the AFT Higher Education council.

Brothers and Sisters, whether it is our children, our grandchildren or ourselves who want to go to college, the costs that face us have grown beyond reason.

It is important to know that these costs are not driven by compensation for faculty and staff. Well-paying jobs in higher ed have been decimated because the vast majority of faculty are forced into contingent, part-time positions for shamefully low wages. It is an American disgrace that at the same time students pay more than ever, most their teachers earn less than ever.

The truth is that there has been a massive and ongoing disinvestment in public colleges and universities that shifted the burden of college cost onto the backs of students and their families. Tight-fisted legislatures cut college funding because they knew they could hike tuition to make up the difference and desperate students would pay any price to improve their futures. Egged on by lobbyists for corporate tax breaks and small government, they’ve created a system that busts family budgets while robbing higher ed employees.

This is NOT what democracy looks like. In 2013, student debt exceeded $1.2 trillion (dollars). Those dollars could be spent on new homes, cars, and goods and services that would provide jobs for American workers. This debt doesn’t hurt just individual graduates, it hurts our economy.
A college education or training is more important than ever for almost every type of work, but students – especially those from working-class families, or non-traditional students – face an impossible choice: be staggered by debt or give up their dreams.

AND while our states disinvest in public higher education, for-profit institutions funded by massive corporations prey on vulnerable students and veterans, leaving them with colossal debt and an often useless credential.

We call on the AFL-CIO to support proposals that will help college borrowers responsibly manage their debt, freeing up billions to stimulate the economy and provide jobs for workers.

We call on the Federation to work in state legislatures to increase investment in public colleges to make higher ed more affordable and to support high quality instruction, including more well-paid positions for contingent faculty.

Finally, we call on the Federation to stand against the fraudulent practices of predatory for-profit colleges that promise much, but deliver so little.
Brothers and Sisters, the problems of education—at all levels—are labor issues. Education can only make this country and its citizens stronger if it is fair, affordable and accessible to all. Not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone should have the opportunity to go.

I urge the delegates to this convention to strongly support this resolution.

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