CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO’S FUTURE ON TRIAL A trial in the San Francisco Superior Court to determine the future of the City College of San Francisco adjourned Oct. 31, after five days of sometimes dramatic testimony. It was scheduled to resume in December with closing arguments. The trial centers on whether the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has acted properly over the course of a two-year process that threatens to shut down the college. “The basic issue in this case is fairness,” says Tim Killikelly, president of AFT Local 2121, which represents faculty at the college. “Is it fair to close down a college of 80,000 people, the educational quality of which is not in question? We hope the trial will help create a fair and transparent accreditation process for City College of San Francisco and all the community colleges in California.”
TIME MAGAZINE COVER TRIGGERS BACKLASH A recent cover of Time magazine, which reads, in part, “Rotten Apples: It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher” and shows a gavel about to smash an apple, generated an outpouring of anger and activism among AFT members and the public at large. On Oct. 30, the AFT delivered a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to Time’s editors demanding an apology for the magazine’s incendiary treatment of a major educational issue. “This Time cover isn’t trying to foster a serious dialogue about solutions our schools need—it’s intentionally creating controversy to sell more copies,” remarked AFT President Randi Weingarten, who personally delivered the petition. The petition ultimately garnered more than 125,000 signatures.
RISING COSTS AND FALLING WAGES SQUEEZING ACCESS TO COLLEGE As a result of skyrocketing college costs over just the past three years, the share of a family’s income needed to meet postsecondary education expenses has increased dramatically. A new report from the Center for American Progress notes that higher tuition and fees charged by colleges and universities account for much of this increase, but so does the fact that median family income fell by 3 percent during the same period. Additional investment by the federal government to assist low-income students has partially addressed the issue of affordability and helped fill some of the gap caused by rising tuition.
But not surprisingly, the authors say, the burden of tuition payments often translates into the burden of debt. This student debt has disproportionately affected communities of color. Together, these factors have led to decreased access to college, higher cost and higher debt. The report is titled “The Middle-Class Squeeze: A Picture of Stagnant Incomes, Rising Costs, and What We Can Do to Strengthen America’s Middle Class.”
WALL STREET DEALS COST COLLEGES AND MUNICIPALITIES BILLIONS A new report from the Roosevelt Institute details how Wall Street sold toxic deals to school districts, colleges and municipalities that are costing communities billions in fees, interest and other payments. In response to the report, educators, parents, community members and local officials joined together for a Day of Action in cities across the country to demand transparency and accountability to ensure taxpayer money is being used to invest in education and communities, not to enrich Wall Street.
“Dirty Deals” details how banks sold school districts, public colleges, and state and local governments predatory financial products like interest rate swaps and capital appreciation bonds—products that were laced with hidden costs and hidden risks, and in many cases were designed to fail—as well as charging exorbitant fees for products and services. The report cites the example of the Peralta Community College District in California, which is paying $1.6 million a year in interest rate swap payments—the equivalent of 320 classes.
PALOMAR COLLEGE PLEDGES TO INFORM EMPLOYEES ABOUT LOAN FORGIVENESS Through the efforts of part-time faculty who are AFT members, Palomar College in California become the first community college in the country to take the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau pledge to inform employees of their student loan repayment options and help them apply for loan forgiveness. A group of members of the Palomar Faculty Federation circulated a petition, gained support of the union’s executive board, then took the issue to the faculty senate and college president as part of the effort. Employers that take the pledge agree to talk to their employees about their options for student loan forgiveness, help them prove they work for a public service organization, and check in with employees annually to make sure they stay on track. In one such loan forgiveness program, for example, employees who work for 10 years in public service and make 120 qualifying monthly payments can have any remaining federal student loan debt forgiven.
AFFILIATES RECOGNIZED FOR INNOVATION AND COLLABORATION Two AFT higher education affiliates were honored in October when the AFT announced this year’s winners of the second annual Prize for Solution-Driven Unionism, designed to highlight innovative, inspiring and collaborative solutions to tough problems. Two first prizes were awarded. One went to Milwaukee Technical College Federation, AFT Local 212, for its solution to lagging graduation and course completion rates. The other was shared by the United University Professions (which represents faculty on State University of New York campuses) and the New York State Public Employees Federation for their successful campaign to save SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., from privatization, promote investment in the facility and actually expand healthcare in Brooklyn. The prize comes with $25,000 for each of the two winners. “These unions thought outside the box and worked with community partners to come up with innovative and, ultimately, successful solutions to seemingly intractable problems,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten.