How Local Organizations are Building a Debt-Free Future

We believe that higher education should be free and accessible for all. While we are trying to solve the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis at the federal level, it is critical that action be taken at the local level to protect students. That’s why youth-led organizations in the Alliance for Youth Action Network are fighting to protect student borrowers and ensure higher education at every level is accessible and affordable for all.

Here is how they are doing it.

New Era Colorado

New Era Colorado is currently working to pass the Student Loan Equity Act—a trailblazing bill that would create protections for private student loan borrowers in Colorado. Right now, private student loans don’t receive many of the basic protections afforded to borrowers of other types of loans. As a result, borrowers are vulnerable to shady loan industry practices, like robo signing and auto-defaulting. Their bill will protect these borrowers, create greater transparency, and offer better recourse if lenders break the law.

Ohio Student Association

Since its formation in 2012, the Ohio Student Association has fought for more affordable and accessible education for all students, regardless of race or income. This mission has guided their work and advocacy around student debt cancellation, financial aid expansion, and the end of harmful punitive policies such as transcript withholding. The Ohio Student Debt Association has worked hard to center student voices in these fights and uplift student debt stories. They are working in coalition with other organizations across the state to tackle student debt. Read their latest report with Policy Matters Ohio on higher education in Ohio. They recently met with Senator Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to share student debt stories.

Virginia Student Power Network

Virginia Student Power Network has a track record of organizing and winning issue-based campaigns for college affordability across the state. In 2014, they won a campaign to create a $1 million emergency fund at George Mason University for low-income, first-generation, undocumented, and homeless students. For four years in a row, they have mobilized students for annual advocacy days at the General Assembly calling for an end to student debt and free public college. 

During the 2020 legislative session, Virginia Student Power Network worked in a broad coalition and engaged 30 student leaders to advocate for in-state tuition for undocumented students, which was selected by the Governor as a priority bill and was written into law after a 15-year fight. They built upon this work during the 2021 legislative session, and Virginia is now the seventh state in the nation to give undocumented students access to state financial aid!

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they launched a statewide pressure campaign on universities to provide equitable COVID-19 relief to students, staff, and community members. They conducted research on federal CARES Act and American Rescue funding to Virginia schools to illuminate the fact that universities were still profiting from the deadly pandemic while students were incurring more debt than ever. Student organizers at the University of Virginia fought and won a tuition freeze through their “COVID Action Now” campaign. VCU student organizers held a town hall with administration and hundreds of students, faculty and staff to hold the university accountable for mishandling the pandemic. 

They will continue to advance statewide and campus-based campaigns around public safety and fighting the corporatization of higher education, including getting cops off of campus and student COVID-19 relief.

Washington Bus

This legislative session, the Washington Bus helped to pass the Our Colleges our Future Act! They won a $33 million investment in Community and Technical Colleges (CTCs) in Washington State, with a focus on racial equity and investment in low-income, BIPoC students.  This bill included mandating diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plans for all CTCs in Washington, winning funding for 200 new full-time faculty positions, funding for a pilot mental health counseling program, and funding for outreach and retention program for BIPoC students. The Our Colleges Our Future Act also changed residency requirements to make financial aid more accessible for undocumented students. Community Colleges are the backbone of our higher education system, and the Washington Bus worked tirelessly alongside partners to make sure they are investing in the education of BIPoC and low-income students.