AFT Resolution


WHEREAS, a college education is one of the most important vehicles for economic and social mobility in the United States, for preparing students to fulfill their civic responsibilities, and for enabling students to achieve their dreams for themselves and their families; and

WHEREAS, decades of state government disinvestment in public institutions of higher education has drastically increased the share of college costs borne by students and families, and has eroded support services that enable students to access, persist in and succeed in college; and

WHEREAS, the privatization of higher education has been embodied in the metastatic growth of for-profit educational enterprises, businesses which extract private profit from publicly funded financial aid, leaving students with high amounts of debt and credentials of dubious quality; and

WHEREAS, in the 2013-14 academic year, for-profit colleges accounted for 9 percent of FTE undergraduate enrollments, but received 20 percent of Pell Grant disbursements, 21 percent of subsidized Stafford Loan disbursements, 20 pecent of unsubsidized Stafford Loan disbursements, and 42 percent of Post-9/11 GI Bill disbursements; and

WHEREAS, while students and families are paying more, faculty and support staff—both full- and part-time—are asked to do more with fewer resources; and

WHEREAS, students and their families are forced to choose either taking on tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a college education or forgoing the personal, familial and social benefits of attending college; and

WHEREAS, this system of cost-shifting is also carried on the backs of an instructional workforce that is now more than three-quarters contingent and therefore lacks the job security that protects the free exchange of ideas; and

WHEREAS, at $1.3 trillion, the student loan debt that is a result of this unsustainable system is the largest form of unsecured consumer debt in the United States; and

WHEREAS, according to the Brookings Institution in 2015, student loans increasingly resemble subprime mortgages issued before the financial collapse, and debt at this scale and of this nature is a threat to the nation’s economy; and

WHEREAS, in 2015, more than 70 percent of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree had student debt, averaging more than $35,000 a person; and

WHEREAS, the existence and growth of this debt benefits banks, student loan servicers, for-profit education companies and other predatory actors, but is an insuperable obstacle to the financial stability of student loan borrowers and their families; and

WHEREAS, this debt constrains students’ opportunities to freely pursue their areas of academic interest, deprives fields of study and the communities they benefit of the talents of a rising generation, and harms working people and the middle class; and

WHEREAS, the denial of economic opportunity diminishes economic democracy, social mobility, public health and racial justice, instead strengthening the school-to-prison pipeline and the “economic draft” into the military; and

WHEREAS, many state governments, municipal governments and individual institutions of higher education are recognizing this crisis of college affordability and are making efforts to reduce the costs of higher education; and

WHEREAS, some “tuition-free” proposals for higher education constitute important steps to address this crisis, but even those are insufficient; and

WHEREAS, a fair and sustainable system of higher education finance must also address the nontuition expenses (for example, fees) that constitute 60 percent of the cost of a college education; and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers has supported and promoted President Obama’s proposal to provide free community college via America’s College Promise, as well as a variety of other state and federal legislative measures to incentivize state investment and reduce the cost of college education to students and families, and institutional measures to achieve the same; and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers has supported free public higher education since 1977--restating this commitment in resolutions in 2005 and 2009:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates affirm their commitment to free public higher education, and will demonstrate this commitment by supporting and working to enact proposals for debt-free higher education that provide all undergraduate students at all public institutions with the opportunity to cover all college costs—not just tuition—without debt, that distribute need-based aid progressively, and that incentivize investment in instruction and student support services to end the exploitative reliance on a contingent faculty workforce; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT and its affiliates will support and work to advance programs and policies at the federal, state and institutional levels that build toward these ends; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will use student debt clinics to educate its members about income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness—free federal programs that can help student loan borrowers lower monthly loan payments and eventually have their student loan debt forgiven; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue to advocate for the protection and expansion of these federal student loan debt relief programs; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue to work with our allies to hold for-profit educational institutions accountable for poor educational outcomes, fraudulent practices, and high student debt; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue its leadership in the fight for free high-quality public higher education.


Please note that a newer resolution, or portion of a resolution, may have superseded an earlier resolution on the same subject. As a result, with the exception of resolutions adopted at our most recent AFT convention, resolutions do not necessarily reflect current AFT policies.