The 2013-14 academic year is shaping up to be a pivotal one for the American student movement. Developments both on-campus and off promise to shape the landscape of higher ed organizing in huge ways.
For the rest of this week, I’ll be posting the top twelve stories I’ve got my eye on as the fall semester gets underway. Yesterday I put up the first three — on Janet Napolitano’s new position at the head of the University of California system, the rise of divestment campaigns targeting Israeli policies and fossil fuels, and the new tuition alternative proposals being floated in Oregon and elsewhere.
As for the next three? Here you go…
9. The Obama plan for higher education funding.
A few weeks ago President Obama rolled out an ambitious set of proposals for reshaping the federal government’s role in higher education funding. There are a lot of pieces to the plan, but its core is a scheme under which students’ financial aid packages would be tied to the performance of the colleges in which they enrolled. The idea is that by rewarding colleges that keep tuition down, keep graduation rates up, and enroll lots of needy students (among other things), the federal government would be able to use its financial clout to influence policy on the state and campus level.
There’s a tremendous amount of disagreement about the merits of the plan, even among progressive higher ed policy folks. (Speaking for myself, there are pieces of it I really dislike, and others that I think have a lot of potential, at least in the abstract.) Big chunks of the plan won’t be going anywhere without congressional approval, others won’t see the light of day for several years, and all of it is going to be the subject of a lot of lobbying and wrangling in the months to come.
8. Building occupations as a campus organizing tactic.
Campus building takeovers have played a diminished role in the American student movement in the last couple of years, but we may see a bit of a resurgence this fall. Turnover at the top of the University of California system, mentioned yesterday, could lead activists there to test the waters on tactics that were met with harsh repression under the system’s former president, while the qualified success of the spring’s Cooper Union occupation drew the attention of organizers around the country.
7. What next for the United States Student Association?
The US Student Association is the country’s oldest and largest national student activist organization, but it has struggled in recent years to build membership and to connect with the burgeoning student movements of the moment. This year will be a crucial year for USSA, as its new officers and staff look to build on the achievements of the past while forging a sustainable new direction for the association.