AFT-Oregon hosts conference to address student debt crisis

Share This

AFT-Oregon gathered faculty, students, staff, union and community advocates to brainstorm on ways to help solve the dire problem of rising student debt, as the state continues the trend of disinvestment in Oregon’s public higher education institutions. The session was part of AFT-Oregon’s effort to engage the public and elected leaders in finding a solution to this issue which affects our workplaces, communities and economy.

“The rapid response and participation in our event by all who were invited is a testament to how serious this problem is for all Oregonians. AFT-Oregon’s goal is to establish a set of principles with which we can draft legislation or have public boards take action to address the problem of debt as the state backs away from funding,” said AFT-Oregon President David Rives.
Joanna Stewart of the University of the Oregon Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) expressed her appreciation for the opportunity. “I’m thrilled to see faculty and students sitting at this table together,” she said.

According to the Oregon University System, state funding for OUS institutions is at an all-time low with state support amounting to only five percent of the budget for the University of Oregon, 10 percent for Oregon State, 11 percent for PSU, and 14 percent for WOU and SOU. Eastern Oregon fairs better at 26 percent, and 28 percent of the Oregon Technical Institute’s budget comes from the state. Meanwhile, Oregon students are graduating college with an average of $25,497 in student loan debt and limited job opportunities, as our economy continues to limp along since the recession.

“Education has a P.R. problem. We’ve gone from a teaching culture to one where we have to prove that we are doing something worthwhile,” said Maria Caruso, Local 2277 (PCCFFAP). “Faculty need to believe in what we have to offer, and students need to believe in their faculty.”
The group decided to move forward with committees to address four areas of concern:  educating students on their debt payment options; protecting borrowers from bad lending practices; addressing institutional spending priorities; and getting the state to invest more money in higher education.  Additionally a small group will meet to find issues of common ground between the Pay it Forward proposal and other ideas for lowering student debt in Oregon.

In addition to AFT-Oregon, participants who attended represented the Oregon Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Association of University Professors, Jobs with Justice, Oregon Student Association, Working Families, PSU Student Action Association, Associated Students of PSU, UO SLAP and LESS-T.