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Challenges and Opportunities

As the nation’s largest higher education union of faculty and staff, the National Education Association (NEA) faces challenges and opportunities in the current fiscal climate.

On the one hand we have a financial downturn that has devastated states’ capacity to adequately fund our colleges and universities, despite rapidly expanding enrollment. On the other hand, President Obama  and Congress have already made significant investments in funding directly to states and for specific higher education programs. We will need to build on these early steps to ensure adequate support for higher education to carry out its mission.

NEA was in the forefront of lobbying for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided financial support for states to reduce budget shortfalls, including those affecting college programs and employment, as well as money for student aid programs. NEA is now working with Congress to improve and pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. This bill would provide the largest increase ever for Pell Grants to ensure that the neediest students have greater purchasing power. It also streamlines the student loan program and provides a substantial pool of grant money targeted for community colleges to further President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative.

The Association is working hard to ensure the provisions in this initiative address faculty staffing issues and ensure sufficient support staff for critical services that help students stay in school and succeed.

We are also working as part of the White House Middle Class Task Force to build on recent gains in college affordability in order to increase grants, make student loans cheaper, and provide more loan forgiveness.
But federal student aid increases will accomplish little when states are drastically cutting funding, capping enrollment, cutting programs, and laying off staff.

NEA favors expanding funding for postsecondary education, building institutional capacity, and providing full support for all faculty and staff. Appropriate levels of full time, tenure-track faculty and staff are critical to delivering a high quality education. It is essential that we ensure this public investment, which not only benefits individual students, but is proven time and again to benefit all of society.

Dennis Van Roekel is president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. As NEA president, he advocates for quality public education at all levels and holds a keen interest in higher education issues.


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