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Higher Ed Not Debt launches with Elizabeth Warren and Randi Weingarten

AFT On Campus

Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined AFT president Randi Weingarten to take a hard stand against escalating college debt at the March 6 launch of “Higher Ed, Not Debt.” The multi-year, multi-partner campaign corrals leading experts from youth, policy, labor and grassroots organizations committed to fight against ballooning student loan debt.

“The cost of college has gone through the roof,” said Warren, noting that a student attending a state college pays 300 percent of what her parents would have paid less than 30 years ago. “This thing is a monster that keeps getting bigger and bigger every day,” said Warren. “It is crushing our young people. It is dragging down our economy.” While the federal government makes billions on student loan interest, students and graduates cannot afford to buy homes, start families and invest in new businesses. “This is a problem we all face,” said Warren.

Weingarten couldn’t agree more. “We can’t be a nation that tells our young people that college is really important while at the same time saddling them with crushing debt and slashing investments in the programs and supports that could enable them to achieve their dreams,” she said. Acknowledging the role of for-profit colleges and the privatization of education, Weingarten added, “Higher education has to be about expanding opportunity for the next generation, not the way for Wall Street and for-profit colleges to enrich themselves.”

According to “Higher Ed Not Debt” statistics, student debt in the U.S. is reaching $1.2 trillion, and the  average debt load is $29,400. Students, rather than states, are paying for the rising cost of higher education: States cut their higher education budgets by 23 percent over the last five years, and tuition has increased by 37 percent since 2008.

The new campaign will provide support to borrowers facing the enormous $1.2 trillion debt burden, address causes of declining affordability (including financial aid policies), challenge the role of Wall Street and the privatization of education, and encourage civic engagement to urge lawmakers to make changes.

Among the organizations that have signed on to this effort are The American Association of University Women, the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the AFT, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the Center for American Progress, Demos, the Education Trust, generation Progress, Jobs with Justice, the National Education Association and more. The launch featured a panel of experts who discussed the need for change the considered the way forward: Tamara Draut, of Demos; Nelini Stamp, Working Families; Max Espinoza, Scholarship America; Jennifer Wang, Young Invincibles; and Sarah Audelo, Generation Progress.

Warren has introduced legislation that would require institutions using federal loan money to meet certain requirements regarding loan default rates and cost per student. She also plans to introduce a bill that would allow borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates, saving as much as $1,000 a year on student loan interest. To cover the lost interest income, Warren would close loopholes for wealthy taxpayers.

“It’s billionaires or students,” she said. “Where do we as a country believe we should make our investments? I want to put my money on students.”

“Higher Ed Not Debt” will mobilize students, parents, borrowers and other advocates through teach-ins, twitter town halls, letter writing and other actions throughout the spring.

“Together we can make higher education a public good and ensure that when we say we want to help students into the middle class, we provide that ladder with rung upon rung upon rung of opportunity,” said Weingarten.