Author: Andrew J. Douglas
The article underscores an increasingly important point: all members of a campus community ought to be deeply concerned about institutional debt. Burned by several decades of public disinvestment from higher education, colleges and universities have become increasingly beholden to a debt-financing paradigm that compels them to prioritize credit ratings and debt service over almost everything else. In the push to appease creditors, administrations are driven to court a steady supply of students who can pay—students from “credit-worthy” families who themselves demonstrate a good borrowing capacity. Institutions have financial incentives to maintain an expansive marketing apparatus that aims to protect brand value, a labor force that is flexible and disciplined yet insufficiently empowered to engage meaningfully in shared governance, and a certain proportion of trustees with ties to the financial industry. This is not a recipe for college affordability or accessibility, nor is it likely to facilitate a vibrant faculty or staff invested in the campus community.
Most HBCUs are small, many are private, and nearly all are nonunionized, located in right-to-work states. But, as always, there is strength in numbers. A campaign against institutional debt at HBCUs, targeting both the cancellation of existing debts and public funding to prevent new debt, could be a powerful initiative of the AAUP’s Committee on Historically Black Institutions and Scholars of Color, of which I am a member. Such a campaign could help to draw more HBCU faculty into the push for a New Deal for Higher Education, which has already identified institutional debt as an issue to address by advocating for legislative action. The CRRSAA was a win for HBCUs. Let’s build on this moment.