Student Debt

from Rebuild the Dream, 3/25/14

Today, Americans hold an all-time record $1.3 trillion in student debt. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a smart plan to end this crisis and her solution is simple: Let Americans with federal student loans refinance to today’s low rate. If we can refinance a flashy new sports car at today’s low rates, we should be able to do the same for our student loans.

Unlike almost every other type of loan, federal student loans are set in stone even if rates change for the better. That might not constitute a crisis if college cost what it did in the seventies. But with middle class wages flat for decades, the soaring cost of education has become a mammoth debt dilemma dragging down an entire generation.

In short, we are taking money from middle class students and handing it to the worst of the one percent. Sen. Warren’s plan is to make up for lost revenue from student loan refinancing by making sure millionaires do not pay a lower tax rate than their assistants. Will you stand with Sen. Warren and show you her support?

Yes, I will stand with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and demand an end to the student debt crisis.

She is not the first to propose refinancing for federal student loans. Nor did she come up with the idea of the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax on millionaires that The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates would raise $47 billion over 10 years, or an average of just under $5 billion per year. President Obama first proposed the tax in 2011, naming it after the acclaimed Warren Buffet, who notes that many millionaires pay a lower tax rate than their assistants.

Sen. Warren’s step forward was combining the two. Suddenly, members of Congress worried about lost revenue no longer have an excuse. And those who oppose fair taxes now have to explain why they care more about hedge fund managers than middle-class families trying to pay for college.

We can save Americans thousands of dollars. Put money back in the pockets of families who invested in education. Create jobs from the middle class out. And do it without adding a dime to the deficit — simply by putting in place a fair tax code and then allowing people to refinance federal student loans.

Even the kid who took out a loan for a sports car instead of going to college can figure out this makes sense. Can Congress?

Want to show your support? Click here to stand with Sen. Warren and demand an end to the student debt crisis.

Thank you for all that you do.

In Solidarity,

Van Jones and The Rebuild The Dream Team

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Free Higher Education Is a Human Right

Richard Eskow, Campaign for America’s Future, March 19, 2014

Social progress is never a straightforward, linear process. Sometimes society struggles to recognize moral questions that in retrospect should have seemed obvious. Then, in a historical moment, something crystallizes. Slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, marriage equality: each of these moral challenges arose in the national conscience before becoming the subject of a fight for justice (some of which have yet to be won).

I believe the moment will come, perhaps very soon, when we as a society will ask ourselves: How can we deny a higher education to any young person in this country just because she or he can’t afford it?

The numbers show that barriers to higher education are an economic burden for both students and society. They also show that the solution – free higher education for all those who would benefit from it – is a practical goal.

But, in the end, the fundamental argument isn’t economic. It’s moral.

The College Cost Crisis

Consider the situation in which we now find ourselves:

Social mobility in the United States is at or near its lowest point in modern history. A nation which prides itself on the “only in America” myth has fallen far behind other countries in this, the primary measurement of an equal-opportunity society.

In the midst of this class ossification, higher education remains a powerful tool for social mobility….

read more at Campaign for America’s Future

Winners and losers – public college tuition and family income

Chart from Suzanne Mettler, “College, the Great Unleveler,” New York Times, 3/2/14:

Losers and Winners

read the article at New York Times

Pa. universities get flexibility on tuition rates

from AP, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/24/14

HARRISBURG – The board that oversees Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities gave the green light Thursday for experiments that could give individual campuses more flexibility in setting tuition and fees.

The State System of Higher Education board approved two-year pilot projects at West Chester University and four other schools. Each project also requires approval from the individual universities.

Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the system, called the pricing concept “a major potential sea change” that would provide schools with much-needed flexibility.

“We are working to achieve a better balance between systemwide coordination and local decision-making, which will allow each of our universities to leverage its own strengths to advance the institution and the entire system,” Brogan said.

Projects were approved at California, Clarion, Edinboro, and East Stroudsburg Universities, along with West Chester, system officials said.

West Chester proposes a 10 percent tuition discount for students who take its courses at the system’s location in Philadelphia….

Read more at Philadelphia Inquirer

GOP’s Enron-esque Higher Ed Plan: Fire Tenured Faculty to Fund Student Dorms

By James Cersonsky, Salon, at AlterNet, January 15, 2014

In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

Subject A: Edinboro University.

Edinboro, an 8,000-student campus in northwestern Pennsylvania, is one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. Last September, in the name of “strategic investment for the future vitality of the University,” president Julie Wollman announced that 42 teaching staff, including 18 tenured faculty, would be laid off, or “retrenched.”

“At first, the students were outraged,” says Crystal Folmar, a senior communications major — especially, she says, over the wholesale elimination of the school’s music program. One hundred and fifty students, faculty and staff rallied outside Cole Auditorium. Later, students delivered a 1,200 signature petition to the president’s office.

President Wollman wasn’t available, so they sat in….

read more at AlterNet

GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms

by James Cersonsky, Salon, 1/14/14

In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

Subject A: Edinboro University.

Edinboro, an 8,000-student campus in northwestern Pennsylvania, is one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. Last September, in the name of “strategic investment for the future vitality of the University,” president Julie Wollman announced that 42 teaching staff, including 18 tenured faculty, would be laid off, or “retrenched.”

“At first, the students were outraged,” says Crystal Folmar, a senior communications major — especially, she says, over the wholesale elimination of the school’s music program. One hundred and fifty students, faculty and staff rallied outside Cole Auditorium. Later, students delivered a 1,200 signature petition to the president’s office.

President Wollman wasn’t available, so they sat in. After a little over an hour, she emerged.

“I don’t think the reputation of Edinboro has to be damaged,” she said. “I think it will be damaged if the word goes out that this is a negative thing.” Because of state cuts, enrollment declines and hiring costs, she added, “we don’t need all the faculty members that we have.”

A student replied, “We have freshmen that are calling us, and on the 2018 Facebook that are asking, should we even come to Edinboro?”

“Well, the answer should be yes!”

Another asked, “Why are we spending so much money on buildings when we can’t pay the faculty?”

“The money has not come out of the general budget,” she said, echoing a common belief. “I think I’ve explained this a number of times. That’s incorrect. It’s true that in many states, there are two separate pots of money.”

The situation at Edinboro — layoffs, uproar, blithe financial entreaties — repeated itself at four other PASSHE schools. …

read more at Salon

More College Adjuncts See Strength in Union Numbers

by TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times, 12/3/13

BOSTON — Gillian Mason was passionate about literature in college, so she made a career of it, earning a Ph.D. in American studies from Boston University. She had part-time teaching jobs on different campuses, but after 10 years as an adjunct she realized that she would never find a tenure-track job, or even one that paid a living wage.

“I was teaching five classes at three different campuses. I was quickly going broke and my student debt was still growing,” she said.

So Ms. Mason left teaching and became a higher-education organizer, part of a movement catching on across American campuses where adjunct faculty members, the working poor of academia, are turning to collective action.

Only a quarter of the academic work force is tenured, or on track for tenure, down from more than a third in 1995. The majority hold contingent jobs — mostly part-time adjuncts but also graduate assistants and full-time lecturers. And the Service Employees International Union, with members in health care, maintenance and public service, is moving hard and fast to add the adjuncts to their roster, organizing at private colleges in several urban areas.

In Washington, it has unionized American University, Georgetown, George Washington and Montgomery College. In the Los Angeles area, adjuncts at Whittier College and the University of La Verne just filed with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. In Boston, Tufts University’s part-time faculty voted to join the service employees’ union in September, and an October vote at Bentley University failed by two votes. Campaigns are underway at Northeastern and Lesley.

“The S.E.I.U. strategy has the momentum right now,” said Adrianna Kezar, director of the University of Southern California’s Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. “And we know that unionizing leads to pay increases and at least the beginnings of benefits.”

A survey published last year by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that unionized adjuncts earned 25 percent more per course than those who were not unionized.

At the service employees’ union’s recent Adjunct Action symposium in Boston, organizers talked of how a citywide union might help to raise pay, improve working conditions and address the health benefits problem: Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with more than 50 employees will be required to provide health insurance to those who work at least 30 hours a week — and in a recent survey of human resources officers by Inside Higher Ed, nearly half said their colleges or universities limited adjuncts’ hours so they would not be eligible for health benefits. When the union’s organizers asked those at the adjunct symposium what they would most like to change, health insurance was right up there with pay and working conditions. …

read more including links, at New York Times