NEA Back to School Tour Spotlights College Affordability Crisis

Calling college affordability “the universal cause that will unite educators, students, parents and communities,” NEA President-Elect Lily Eskelsen García spent the second day of NEA’s Back-to-School Tour shining the spotlight on Degrees Not Debt, the national campaign to reduce crushing student loan debt and make college more affordable to all.

Eskelsen García spent the morning at California State University Northridge hearing from student, higher ed and K-12 members as they shared stories of student debt.

CSU Northridge history professor Erik Goldner spoke of being $30,000 in debt seven years after completing graduate studies, finding an academic position, and making payments that have only covered the loan’s interest. Together with his wife’s $50,000 student loan debt, Goldner faces years of ongoing financial stress.

NEA President-Elect Lily Eskelsen García discusses college affordability at California State University Northridge on August 21, 2014.

Jesse Sanchez, President of Student California Teachers Association (CTA) and a graduate student at CSU San Bernadino left a well-paying job because he believed in the promise and opportunity of higher education. “Today, I am struggling with more than $65,000 in debt, I cannot afford to buy a home and I’m still a year away from finishing,” said Sanchez. “I never thought that in trying to create a better future for myself and my family by pursuing my goal to become a teacher I would actually jeopardize our future.”

“What kind of country have we become when people like Jesse Sanchez think they made a mistake going to college?” said Eskelsen García. “What kind of society do we have when a grandparent has his social security payments garnered to pay for his grandson’s student loan debt?”

Mario E. Castaneda, Asst. Professor of Secondary Education at CSU Los Angeles agrees. “College education should be a vision for every child,” said Castaneda, who is himself paying off $60,000 in student loans, “Sadly, the crisis of college affordability is affecting the most challenged of communities. Students are being steered away from teacher education programs, parents, worried about mounting debt figures are sending the message to their children that they don’t need college, K-12 and higher ed members are burdened by their loans. The consequences on education, the economy and society is devastating.”

At CSU Northridge and during a meeting with Oakland where she was joined by CTA President Dean Vogel and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Eskelsen Garcia pointed to the Degrees not Debt campaign as part of the solution.  There are 40 million people with student debt and they don’t know that $30 million is available in assistance,” added Eskelsen García. “Degrees not Debt is the path to debt relief and action.”

Eskelsen García urged leaders and members to take the Degrees Not Debt pledge and share both their stories and the campaign with not just college students and peers but the K-12 community as well.

Theresa Montaño, Chicano Studies professor organized the Degrees Not Debt session to gather stories and solutions from students and faculty members from area colleges and universities. “We are so very proud that NEA is taking the lead on this issue and that our state is taking action. We fought long and hard for the right to higher education. We must continue its affordability.”