NYSUT's two national affiliates — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — are taking steps to help students with existing debt, and to prevent future graduates from incurring a lifelong burden.
"It's such a significant issue, and the NEA has student membership," said Faculty Federation of Erie CC President Andy Sako, a NYSUT Board member.
NEA's "Degrees Not Debt" program supports an increase of needs-based student aid and loan forgiveness through public service; more affordable student loans and an increase of institutional aid.
The AFT is urging state legislatures to embrace a package of legislation that offers creative solutions to student debt. Among them: reinvestment in public colleges; elimination of state financial aid at for-profit colleges; and improvement of working conditions for contingent faculty.
Overcrowded classes and reduced course offerings are directly responsible for increased costs to students, who often cannot graduate in four years. That problem could be alleviated by forcing colleges to adequately staff classes and realistically compensate adjunct faculty.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, which shares NYSUT's call for greater investment in SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges, favors — as NYSUT does — free or very low tuition at public universities, said Russ Haven, NYPIRG's legislative counsel.
"Maybe getting to zero is aspirational, but it has to be affordable," Haven said. "We can't keep saddling our students and future leaders with crippling debt."