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Student Debt, Online Education Lead Concerns of National Higher Ed Group

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Organizations such as the United States Student Association are challenging rising tuition costs that have kept would-be students away from a higher education and plunged thousands of young people into six-figure debt after completion of their studies A national coalition working to ensure that affordable, quality higher education is accessible to everyone tackled the growing problem of student debt during its three-day conference at the Desmond.

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education is conducting panel discussions and workshops on how student debt acts as a barrier to access and equity, at its seventh National Gathering from May 16-18, as thousands graduate from area colleges.  The theme of CFHE’s conference is “Building Alliances for Access, Equity and Quality.” Participants include nearly 100 higher education professionals, college students, community leaders and unionists from across the nation.

“Rising tuition costs—too much of it due to lack of funding from state and federal governments—have kept would-be students away and plunged thousands of young people into six-figure debt that will take years to pay off,” United University Professions President Fred Kowal said.  “This is where organizations like CFHE, the United States Student Association, Dream Defenders, NYPIRG and Debt Free Future can be so valuable.

“These groups, along with United We Dream, Higher Ed Not Debt, Students for Quality Education, New Jersey United Students—all of who are represented on Saturday’s student debt panel—have the ability to bring local, regional and national attention to this important issue.”

UUP, which hosted the conference, represents faculty and staff at the state-operated campuses of the State University of New York and is a member of CFHE.

CFHE is also debuting its new video that raises major concerns about the expansion of online college courses.   The five-minute video “Online Education: Teaching Millions or Making Millions?”, which is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vkKPt0Aacg , depicts the online education industry as more concerned about making money than providing quality education.

“The classroom experience, the interaction between professor and students, the interchange of ideas, cannot be replicated or replaced by Massive Open Online Courses,” said UUP statewide Secretary Eileen Landy, who is coordinator of the campaign.

In addition to student debt and online education, participants are also discussing ways to protect educational quality through community involvement and coalition building, and creating a common agenda to further their shared goals.

Chris Hicks, organizer for the Jobs With Justice Debt Free Future Campaign, will give the keynote speech Saturday at noon.  He will tell the conference that ongoing organizing efforts are essential to restoring higher education to a public good.

“At every level of the college campus, organizing is on the rise.  Students, campus workers, adjuncts, faculty   even the student debtors who have graduated and left are organizing.  And we will keep rising until we reclaim the promise of higher education,” Hicks said.  Jobs With Justice is a national organization that works to make college more affordable through stronger oversight of student lenders.

Members from the SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders presented a case study in coalition building. They told participants how they forged alliances to protect SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn as a full-service, public hospital.

CFHE is comprised of dozens of higher education faculty and staff organizations from across the U.S.  It was formed in 2011 to guarantee that affordable, quality higher education is accessible to all sectors of society and that the voices of the faculty, staff, students and communities—not just the voices of administrators, politicians, foundations and think tanks—are included in the process of making change.

The campaign seeks to ensure that the emphasis, curriculum, pricing, and structure of America’s higher education systems are good for students and the quality of education they receive.

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