Debate Prep

In a highly scientific and not at all reality show-like process, the top 10 Republican candidates have been selected for this evening’s debate. It is probably well known to readers of this blog that these men carry the water of powerful corporate interests from the Koch brothers to Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot, and many, many more. So while it might not surprise you, it should disgust you the degree to which this group has taken part in the corporatization of higher education.

Let’s start with Donald Trump, who is #1 in the polls and is basically a walking talking corporation. Trump started his own university called, humbly, Trump University which is naturally for-profit and has enrolled around 5,000 students, taking in approximately $40M. Lacking the proper accreditation for the real estate programs it touted, it is now under investigation by New York’s AG’s office for “deceptive conduct.”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has spoken out against common sense “gainful employment” rules on the campaign trail. Jeb Bush reduced for-profit oversight in Florida, leaving in place a “commission” that failed to act on any complaints in 15 years, while loosening rules to funnel more taxpayer money into the industry. A recent series on for-profit colleges in the Miami Herald details the issues in Florida better than we ever could in a blog post.

While we hate to have to elaborate on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker beyond AFL-CIO President Rich Trumpka’s perfect press release, those concerned about higher ed affordability should know he went to bat for oft-investigated for-profit behemoth ITT Tech, while trying to decrease oversight over all for-profit colleges in Wisconsin.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, aka AFT’s #1 fan, has allied himself with the for-profit higher ed giant University of Phoenix. Christie lobbied for UoP to expand into New Jersey, though why New Jersey students need a postsecondary option that is more expensive, of lower quality, and with a penchant for ignoring executive orders is anyone’s guess.

We could go on, but it would take us all day to work through the dense web of connections and we’d rather this conversation play out in front of a prime-time audience. The point is, for-profit colleges are delivering a questionable education at a high cost to students, and serve primarily as a way station for money on its way from students to investors. For-profit students aren’t the only victims here. The loans that fuel the for-profit industry are federal, taxpayer-financed student loans. Over 30 billion dollars a year of public money are poured into for-profit college coffers – their nearly exclusive source of funding. So why is the American public bankrolling the predatory business exploits of the one percent? Because, as demonstrated above, for-profit colleges funnel money into the campaigns of an overwhelmingly Republican group of sympathetic policy makers and elected officials. Don’t you think that deserves a little air time?

Member profile: From Ypsilanti to the Global Stage


Kay McGowan
Adjunct professor, cultural anthropology, Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers

When classes at Eastern Michigan University end each spring, Kay McGowan wraps things up with her anthropology students and turns her attention to her duties at the United Nations. One of the authors of the landmark Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007, McGowan, a woman of Mississippi Choctaw and Cherokee heritage, still represents indigenous people from around the world at UN meetings, regularly addressing the Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on pressing issues. Among them: domestic violence, abusive “Indian” boarding schools, water as the next human rights issue and oil pipelines that threaten environment and well-being the world over.

While a college classroom at EMU and the halls of the United Nations may seem worlds apart, for McGowan they are closely linked. Because the most important lesson she has to offer her students is the inspiration that comes from making a difference in the world. It’s an inspiration with roots in her union family: Her father took her to the machinists’ union hall when she was a small girl, her twin sister organized retail clerks at age 19 and she herself worked for years picketing with the United Farm Workers in California. She is a staunch believer in the power of a having a collective voice in the workplace. “If people really think that what they have is a result of their hard work and effort I would beg to differ,” she says. “In Michigan especially it has a direct relationship to union organizing and union activity.”

McGowan is a member of the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers and has been teaching for nearly 30 years. “One of the things that has kept me in academia is that I feel like I can make a difference there,” she says. “I can educate young people and give them hope and give them the sense of the power that they have to make a difference and to change things.”

Why My Fellow Adjuncts and I Decided to Form a Union

“On July 14, 86% of my colleagues voted to form a union with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), effectively unionizing over 800 instructors across CCAC’s four campuses. And while this is only the first step before we head to the bargaining table, it represents a huge victory for academic labor and contingent faculty.”

Read more by AFT member Luke Niebler at In These Times…

Adjuncts at Pennsylvania college vote to unionize

Adjunct faculty at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania just turned up the volume on the conversation about job security, fair pay and other resources they need to effectively reach their students. In an overwhelming 294-64 vote finalized on July 14, they chose to join the AFT.

AFT President Randi Weingarten with new AFT members at the Community College of Allegheny County

That’s a strong 86 percent casting their votes in favor of establishing a collective voice through the union. Nearly 60 percent of CCAC’s 800 adjunct faculty members voted. Their full-time faculty colleagues have been affiliated with the AFT for more than 40 years.

The new local, Community College of Allegheny County Adjuncts United, will begin with a survey about adjunct priorities, but some are already clear in the testimonials circulated by CCAC faculty during the voting process. (Members of the local organizing committee are pictured with AFT President Randi Weingarten.)

Reflecting on why she wants to join the union, math adjunct Natalie Ahwesh says, “As an adjunct, I teach the same classes as full-time professors, but receive far less pay. I keep this job because I love my students, but they are the ones who suffer because I must teach at four different schools just to make ends meet,” she continues. “I would love to have more time to plan better lessons and spend with my students.”

Jennie Snyder, a professor in the art department, says she wants to offer her students a better opportunity than she’s had as an academic. “I have several students who hope to teach at a college level, and they truly believe they’re going to be homeless if they pursue a career in academics.”

“If we teach by example,” she adds, “what are we saying about their value when we, ourselves, are willing to work for ramen noodle wages?”

After the election Snyder added, “Because adjuncts make up the majority of educators at CCAC, speaking with one voice, as our full-time colleagues have done, will allow us to negotiate better working conditions such as sustainable pay, access to benefits, and job stability that would be impossible to achieve on an individual basis. Shared voice in governance will foster a sense of community within not only the adjunct unit, but the teaching population as a whole.”

The campaign to unionize CCAC adjuncts began two years ago and enjoyed support not only from the full-time faculty there but from union adjuncts across the nation. AFT members from Temple University, Eastern Michigan, Henry Ford, several universities in the Council of New Jersey State College Locals and others, sent video messages of support.

“As a young academic, I believe that we need to fight for more voice in governance and greater respect as workers,” says Luke Niebler, in CCAC’s English department. “We owe it to ourselves, our students and the future of the college to create a learning environment where all people are treated fairly.”


Six steps to debt-free college

Do all undergraduate students have access to debt-free college? Check!
Does debt-free college apply to all undergraduate public institutions? Check!

The Debt-Free College Checklist could help make it so.

Launched on July 16 by the AFT, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Demos during the Netroots Nation 2015 conference in Phoenix, the checklist of six questions puts a fine point on our belief—that higher education should be accessible to everyone, regardless of income, and without destroying their lives with crippling debt – and helps clarify an issue that is moving fast, with politicians and policymakers beginning to formulate the ways in which we can address student debt and begin to rein it in.

The checklist declares that any worthwhile “debt-free college” plan should answer, “Yes!” to the following questions:

  • Do all undergraduate students have access to debt-free college?
  • Does debt-free college apply to allundergraduate public institutions?
  • Does debt-free college apply to all college costs, not just tuition?
  • Does the “debt-free college” plan facilitate all students having equal access to high-quality public education by incentivizing investment in instruction and student support services?
  • Does the formula used to calculate “debt-free” avoid academic hardship for students and economic hardship for everyday families? (i.e. low-income students are not forced to hurt their academic performance by working excessive hours while wealthier students study, and middle-class families are not assumed to have savings and disposable cash they do not truly have.)
  • Is aid distributed progressively — investing most in those who may not attend or complete college, or not maximize their participation in the economy after college, due to student debt?

Remember, student debt is at $1.3 trillion and climbing. It’s got to stop.

“We have to mitigate the debt that is already due,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten during a briefing about the checklist. “Why would we incur additional debt? It is paradoxical and I would argue hypocritical to say that college is so important, but make it increasingly out of reach for all but those who are the most wealthy.”

While we’re making lists, here’s one that outlines the mess student debt can leave behind:

  • Students who can’t afford their loan payments wind up dropping out without having earned a degree. They get: No credential. Loads of debt.
  • Graduates have loan payments so high they can’t afford to buy a home, purchase a car, or start a family.
  • Graduates choose jobs based on earn-quick salaries to pay off loans, rather than public service jobs or more personally satisfying careers that may start off financially slow, but catch up later.
  • The U.S. economy is strangled by limitations set in place by debt-plagued people who can’t fully participate, can’t start new businesses, can’t support their own families, and wind up on federal assistance or worse.

And while we’re at it, take a look at how the divestment in public education is hitting the quality of the higher education experience in general. The squeeze on public university budgets is creating an enormous adjunct and contingent workforce that is underpaid and overworked, says Weingarten. “More than three quarters of American college professors are contingent,” she says. “That means they can automatically be fired. It means they’re cobbling together a living at four or five colleges. That they may not have the academic freedom they need to do the work the universities require.” Funding colleges, and making attendance debt-free, is essential to preserving the integrity of public higher education.

How to fix this? We have a few ideas.

  • Make states fund higher ed, instead of slashing funds from their budgets.
  • Incentivize and assist colleges as they try to keep tuition down.
  • Prevent the federal government from profiting off student loan interest.
  • Make more Pell grants available, with fewer hoops for the program to jump through for renewal.
  • Simplify financial aid applications.
  • Protect students by enforcing laws against predatory lenders.

It is likely that legislators will pay close attention to the debt-free checklist: more than 70 co-sponsors have already signed on to great legislation like the Schatz-Schumer-Warren and Grijalva-Ellison-Clark resolutions, designed to relieve student debt, and presidential candidates are including affordable higher ed in their campaigns.

“The devil is in the details,” said PCCC co-founder Adam Green. “This checklist is aimed at making sure there are clear expectations.”