NEA Launches Campaign to Help Reduce Student Debt

Every American deserves a fair shot at higher education. But these days college debt isn’t just a burden—it’s a barrier to accessing the American Dream.

That’s why NEA has launched the new Degrees Not Debt campaign, which aims to reduce student debt and make college affordable for all Americans, regardless of their family income. It’s about educational equity for all, and making sure every student can get the education they need to get a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college.

“My students are not statistics. They are real and their college debt is real,” said Theresa Montano, president of NEA’s National Council for Higher Education, and a professor at CSU Northridge, where up to two-thirds of the students are the first in their families to attend college and most borrow to pay for tuition. “I am constantly reminded of the hardships and sacrifices my students make for their college educations… College debt is a high price to pay for the attainment of a dream.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Student Loan Bill
About 40 million Americans would get relief from student loan debt through Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, introduced in early May. “Exploding student loan debt is crushing young people and dragging down our economy,” said Warren. “These students didn’t go to the mall and run up charges on a credit card. They worked hard and learned new skills that will benefit this country and help us build a stronger middle class and stronger America.” The bill would allow recent graduates to refinance their loans at current interest rates. In order to cover the cost of refinancing, it also would make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes.

College debt has reached a staggering $1.2 trillion in the United States, outpacing credit card or consumer debt. Seven in 10 college graduates owe money, and the average amount is $29,400. At those levels, student loan debt has become an economic albatross, restricting economic growth in this country.

And many NEA members owe much more than the average. California Teachers Association-Student President John Belleci owes about $80,000, he said, while his daughter, a recent college graduate and Head Start teacher, owes an additional $65,000. “My biggest fear is that the debt accumulated by me and my daughter will handcuff my grandchildren’s ability to reach the middle class,” he said. “How can I help them go to school when I’ll be paying off my own loans for decades?”

The jobs of the future—actually, the jobs of today—increasingly require a post-secondary degree or certificate, and that includes the job of a highly qualified teacher. Brittney Johnson, a graduate of a Virginia public university that required her to borrow about $40,000 to pay for four years of tuition, is now pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction that will require her to borrow another $68,000. Her graduate program will help her to be a highly qualified teacher—the kind every student deserves, and that state and federal policies increasingly require. But is Johnson sacrificing her own financial health for her students’ well-being?

“Cost is a factor that makes students second guess themselves when picking a career,” Johnson admitted. “They don’t want to go into fields that require higher-level degrees because they likely won’t be able to pay them off within their general life expectancy! My mom asks me all the time, ‘Don’t you want to go into another field? Like maybe business administration?’”

NEA members from California to Massachusetts to Florida to Texas, from students to K12 teachers to higher-ed faculty and education support professionals, will be working together to advocate for these four policy goals:

1. Need-based student aid must be increased, especially Pell Grants, which don’t currently cover even 40 percent of college costs.
2. Student loans must be made more affordable. (NEA has encouraged the federal government to lower interest rates and further limit the percentage of their income that borrowers can spend on loan repayment.)
3. Public-service careers, like teaching, must be encouraged through expanded loan-forgiveness programs.
4. Institutional aid must be increased.

If you want to raise your voice in support of these goals, take the NEA Degrees Not Debt pledge.

  • Obviously, I would like to see an America as a country that fulfills the needs of our men and
    women as well-educated people. Healthy. Fair health coverage. No insurance game playing.
    I would like to hear that our retirees receive their just Social Security. They are not receiving it if
    the provisions of the Windfall Elimination Provision still is enforced. Men and women retirees
    who taught and worked in private and public sectors are penalized for working in both.
    They could easily receive welfare checks and just lie on the beaches and watch the money come.
    It is shameful that those of us who worked all our lives should live in poverty. Affirmative action took care of me in the 1970’s. I could only get adjunct positions. I had to retrain and the job I eventually got was in the public sector. I was forced to retire when I was 68 years old.-Trustees of the library said I was too old and disabled was not adhered to by the law. Shame on the Congress and those who have caused harm by caring only about the one percent. Yes, How many days did our Republican Congressmen work this year? Who really cares about the 99 percent?

  • My son wants to be a game warden. He has had to take out loans for three years to go to school, because I’m a single mom and a teacher I can help very little. We push our children to “get a degree” and pursue your dreams, at the same time knowing the will be paying off student loans forever. He knows the field he has chosen won’t make him rich but, with all the student loans he may end up poor. He is still passionate about the field he has chosen but, it would be a lot easier if the interest rate on his loans was lowered.

  • Jean

    My daughter is over $100,000. in debt and she cannot even finish her degree. We cannot borrow any more. I will be helping her pay off her debt in retirement. Its a shame our young people have such enormous debt.

  • Jennifer

    Yes, student loan debt is a problem for individuals and for the economy of the country. However, who is going to pay for all of the proposed aid? There are options for getting an education without a lot of debt. My husband and I have both bachelors and masters degrees obtained through a combination of military benefits, private scholarships based up merit, and some courses taken at a community college. Our son’s education was paid for by merit scholarships, a small loan to him, and the majority paid for by us, possible because of a lifetime of responsible financial decisions. Some people we know have student loan debt yet never finished college or got poor grades. Perhaps everyone shouldn’t go to college. We need the availability of good jobs that don’t require a college degree. While I am making a statement that some may not receive favorably, I might as well finish. It is much easier to make financially when there are two people in a committed relationship (ideally marriage), taking care of their children and working to pay the bills.

  • Sarah

    I have taught 10 years, still owe $30,000 and my husband owes $20,000 after paying $350/month for 10 years. We had to sell our home in order to get out from under this debt. Even still I am reluctant to give up the $50,000 in equity we earned in our 12 year home just to pay this debt only to have no down to purchase another home. We rent until we figure it out. Sort of bleak for a professional teacher, right?!?! And yes, I have two children in college whom I am unable to assist other than phone and insurance so they are now accruing their own college loan debts. I am extremely frugal, so I am all for less interest college loans. Word to the wise: never convert to Sallie Mae as loan forgiveness does not apply with their private entity…. So frustrated to learn this too late!

  • Faithwalk

    You can keep asking for more more more for education, but the private sector which pays for all this is shrinking. Until the pendulum swings the other way it is only going to get worse. There is a pension tsunami coming. It is all unsustainable.
    Businesses transitioned employees to risk based 401Ks years ago. Public sector workers must do the same. Overhead in all of education including universities must be cut. We are getting less and less for more. Education has become just a piece of paper and a liberal propaganda machine.

  • JW

    In addition to the above move to lower interest rates, PLEASE be aware that student loans are no longer a simple interest loan but a compound interest loan. I was not aware when we encouraged our daughter to take out loans. Now she and we have incurred over $100K in loans even with her receiving instate tuition and grants.
    Oh, not to mention the current loan I am paying on for my first daughter. Sally Mae has been hounding me bc I fell behind one payment and (get this) the payment of 350.00 in 6 months has incurred enough interest that it has more than doubled.
    I have been paying on the loan for 8 yrs and the balance has barely decreased??? It is like paying off a credit card with the minimum payment. Nothing like when I paid off my loans in the 80’s.
    Our children are being raped by our government!

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