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Helping Members Beat Back Student Debt

Since their inception in 2015, these workshops have offered information about underutilized federal programs that provide relief to those who know about them. Income-based repayment plans, for example, adjust monthly loan payments according to a person’s actual income. The popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) service benefits those — like our union members — who devote their working lives to the common good.
“These clinics are a great example of how unions empower members beyond the bargaining table,” said AFT Connecticut vice president for retirees Laila Mandour. “Beating back student debt isn’t something anyone of us can do alone — it takes concerted, collective action at all levels. Marshaling resources to help individual borrowers is an important first step,” added Mandour, who in 2016 retired after serving over 20 years as an attorney in the state’s transportation department.
Mandour was one of over a dozen union leaders who in early 2017 attended a “train the trainers” session to prepare for coordinating local student debt clinics across Connecticut. Working with leaders of our affiliated Administrative & Residual (A&R) Employees Union, last fall she helped organize workshops exclusively for members and their families (above).
Click here to learn more about our national union’s debt-free future campaign.
“These clinics aren’t just a benefit for those who participate,” said Dennis Bogusky, an international student advisor at Norwalk Community College. “They also help us keep our students focused on their higher education, not their future debt. They shouldn’t be selecting courses based solely on their future earning potential. With the tools and resources these clinics provide, we can help them make better choices,” added Bogusky, who also serves as our state federation’s vice president for higher education.
Bogusky’s comments speak to the broader public value of this effort. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that 34 million Americans qualify for public service loan forgiveness, but fewer than 740,000 have enrolled. With the program facing threats from the Trump Administration and Congress, a campaign to protect it is underway with partners from the military, law enforcement and food safety professionals.
Click here to sign the petition demanding federal elected officials preserve PSLF.
“The economic and professional advantages of earning a college degree are well established,” AFT national president Randi Weingarten said at the clinics’ launch. “A highly educated workforce is essential to the nation’s economic future — but many people simply can’t afford to seek higher education, or they pay dearly when they do. Forty-seven states are spending less per student than they did at the start of the recession, and, as a result, tuition costs have skyrocketed,” Weingarten added.
Weingarten’s comments foreshadowed the broad scope of the fight, not just to help borrowers handle their debt, but to fix the policies that got them there in the first place. Union members and leaders have for the past two years rallied, written articles and letters, and testified before state and federal policymakers to press for change. Among the demands: more accountability for loan servicers and reining-in the soaring default rates at for-profit colleges.
These efforts have escalated since the appointment of federal education secretary Betsy DeVos, who has for the past year sought to loosen the regulations designed to protect students and taxpayers. During her tenure, she has targeted gainful employment rules, weakened borrower-defense claims and embraced deceptive and predatory student loan servicing tactics that allow high rates of default.
Click here for more on union members’ efforts to demand higher ed, not debt.

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