May 18, 2014

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Student debt, building coalitions in spotlight at CFHE forum

uupdate 5-18-14

A national organization dedicated to affordable, accessible higher education discussed student debt, building coalitions and online education during a weekend conference in Albany.

Student activists, faculty members, unionists, faith-based leaders and community organizers—some from as far away as California, Florida, Minnesota and Quebec—took part in the for the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education’s (CFHE) Seventh National Gathering, May 16-18. UUP hosted the event; UUP statewide Secretary Eileen Landy, who heads CFHE’s Planning Committee, coordinated the conference.

More than 80 participants were at the event, including the union’s leadership team—Landy, President Fred Kowal, VPA Jamie Dangler, VPP Philippe Abraham, Treasurer Rowena Blackman-Stroud, and Membership Development Officer Edison Bond Jr. The symposium, held at The Desmond, featured three days of panel discussions on coalition building, working to fix student debt and creating a joint agenda for positive change.

Watch local news coverage of the conference!

Kowal set the tone for the weekend in his opening remarks May 16. Kowal challenged CFHE advocates to confront the so-called higher education “reform” movement—which he called a retreat from higher ed.

“It’s up to us to energize and to lead,” Kowal said. “It would be a terrible shame not to take the challenge.”

Eyeing debt

Panelists from nine student advocacy groups talked in great detail about high tuition and student debt, and how the issue isn’t one that solely impacts students.

“This isn’t about students, it’s about inequality across all ages in this country,” said Maggie Thompson, campaign manager for Higher Ed Not Debt.

Keynote speaker Chris Hicks, campaign organizer of Debt-Free Future for the Washington, D.C.-based Jobs With Justice, warned that college loan debt could surpass $2 trillion by 2022 if nothing is done.

Fighting Back

Blackman-Stroud and Bond led a panel on the formation of the SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders, a grassroots group instrumental in saving health care services and jobs at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. NYS AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Terrance Melvin and coalition member and Brooklyn Rev. Anita Burson were also on the panel.

More than 20 organizations took part in the conference, titled “Building Alliances for Access, Equity and Quality.”

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