Immediately Protect and Strengthen Higher Education for the Post COVID World

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Sophie Smith
Sophie Smith signed this petition


Dear Elected Official:

Higher education--especially public institutions and all but the wealthiest private colleges --faces an unprecedented crisis that will have catastrophic consequences for the nation. The economic cataclysm caused by the COVID 19 pandemic is devastating state budgets, and universities are losing additional billions as they refund housing and fees.  Higher education leaders have announced drastic budget cuts, furloughs, lay-offs, and even permanent campus closures. 

The stop-gap emergency relief funds universities received through the CARES legislation were woefully insufficient. Our public institutions are suffering the greatest damage.  They are already facing unprecedented losses of tens of billions of dollars, but received only $14 billion, or .7% of the April 20 CARES Act funding.  The COVID crisis is compounding the threats already facing public higher education for decades.  Over forty years of funding cuts by state legislatures and institutional reorganization had already raised tuition by 260 percent and reduced tenure track faculty positions by 50 percent.  A generation of students has been saddled with $1.6 trillion in unpayable debt, educators and researchers have faced insecure and poorly paid work, and support staff have been reduced.  

If we don’t act immediately, our system of higher education will be in shambles. Universities and colleges will close or shrink, student debt will mount. We will lose the most vital economic and intellectual engines of our nation. 

Our nation’s colleges and universities are uniquely positioned at this moment of crisis to help the U.S. manage the unprecedented challenge of COVID 19.  Higher education directly employs 3.6 million people, and accounts for 6.7 million jobs in the US.  Public institutions alone are currently educating 19.4 million students across the nation. The total gross output of higher education institutions due to research investments and wages accounts for $1 trillion annually.  

Just as universities and colleges used infusions of GI Bill  funds and public investment to help the nation adjust to the unprecedented new conditions after World War II, higher education institutions have an important role to play in rebuilding the post-COVID 19 world.  They will provide young people with education and skills that prepare them for new careers while also driving the engine of US innovation and economic development. In many communities, colleges and universities are anchors of employment, offering stable jobs with benefits to thousands of workers. And they breathe life into our social and cultural institutions.

If the government fails to act now, universities and colleges will continue to close or scale-back their operations. Many regions across the country will be devastated. We will lose an entire generation of workers and the knowledge-production we need to confront the challenges of the twenty-first century.  

We need federal legislation that will guarantee that all students can afford higher education and that our institutions will provide stable employment and living wages for all of their workers. 

We thereby call on the federal government to immediately:  

1. Expand federal student grants for postsecondary education 

2. Cancel existing student debt 

3. Offer federal investment directed mostly at public institutions but also for non-elite not-for-profit private institutions targeted at:

    a) lowering tuition costs for undergraduate and graduate students 

    b) extending PhD student funding to account for research time lost to COVID

    c) converting contingent teaching positions into full-time long-term employment 

    d) retaining all staff and service workers 

In the coming weeks and months, there will be continued calls for massive federal investment in all areas of public life.  Higher education institutions must be prioritized.  The closure of our institutions of higher education would be catastrophic to our collective future.