article
January 13, 2015

Weingarten to higher ed council: 'We've made student debt front and center'

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications
higher education council
Caption: "It's meaningless to say that college matters, without providing the means to support it," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. L-R: NYSUT Higher Education Council Chair Roberta Elins; Weingarten; NYSUT Vice President Catalina R. Fortino; and NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. Photo by Karen Mattison.

NYSUT and its higher education affiliates and locals can be justly proud of the role they play in advocating for affordable higher education, a campaign that undoubtedly helped lead to President Obama's proposal for free community college education, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Friday at the NYSUT Higher Education Policy Council meeting.

"We've made student debt front and center," said Weingarten, who scheduled an unexpected talk at the New York City meeting of the Council, which acts as an advisory body to NYSUT. Her remarks there came one day after the president proposed a national plan for the federal government and states to provide up to two years of the cost of tuition and fees at community colleges.

The AFT, NYSUT and its higher education affiliates - United University Professions, Professional Staff Congress and their community colleges - have already embraced the concept of free public higher education as part of a growing national movement to address the staggering cost of a college degree, and their advocacy has caught the attention of members of Congress and federal education officials.

higher education council
L-R: United University Professions leaders Eileen Landy, Jamie Dangler, Ray Gleason and Fred Kowal.

higher education council
L-R: Professional Staff Congress leaders Steve London, Michael Fabricant and Barbara Bowen.

"I'm grateful that the president has listened to us on this," Weingarten said. "Because at the end of the day, it's meaningless to say that college matters, without providing the means to support it."

UUP and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, are both part of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, a national coalition of labor and student groups that has advocated for both free public higher education and a solution to the student debt crisis. UUP has proposed a package of initiatives for this legislative session that includes a proposal for student loan forgiveness.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees higher education policy attended the meeting, which was led by newly appointed council chair Roberta Elins, president of the NYSUT local United College Employees of FIT.