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UAW Statement on Higher Education


Our country’s higher education system, vocational training and workplace apprenticeship programs prepare us for the jobs of tomorrow. In a global market, American workers must continue to lead the way in productivity, service and quality. Advanced technology jobs, whether they are in manufacturing, health care, government or any other UAW sector, require advanced knowledge and training. By 2020, nearly two-thirds of all jobs will require at least some higher education, up from 59 percent in 2007. However, based on current trends, our educational system will not keep pace with rising demands for educated workers and by 2020, we will graduate 5 million fewer students than the labor market will demand. Our country needs our elected leaders to tackle this challenge head on.

Our country is justifiably proud of its institutions of higher education, community colleges and apprenticeship programs that serve traditional and non-traditional students. Our universities attract students and researchers from around the world. Our educational system is powering research developing technologies that will be the basis for new jobs and new industries, finding cleaner ways to power our economy, improving our health and quality of life and making other contributions to a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable future. Community colleges provide avenues for much-needed vocational training.

While our colleges and universities are incredible national resources, they face growing challenges that must not be ignored by policymakers. Budget cuts, skyrocketing tuition, increasing student loan debt and a squeeze on academic workers by school administrations threaten the quality and accessibility of higher education, as well as the success of the academic research enterprise. A four-year degree, associate’s degree or vocational certificate is out of reach for many working families. Increased funding of education, including vocational education partnerships with community colleges as well as apprenticeship programs, is critical for our future.

What’s at stake for UAW members?

Vocational training programs for skilled production work and apprenticeships prepare us for the jobs of tomorrow. We have managed highly successful apprenticeship programs with many of our employers for decades. UAW joint programs have enabled tens of thousands of our members to upgrade their skills. However, as a country we need to make much bigger commitment, and expanded funding for vocational training will help us meet the manufacturing challenges and opportunities in this country. Apprenticeships in skilled trades and high-growth fields such as advanced manufacturing are an investment in our country’s future. Apprenticeships that partner employers, labor, schools, and local governments are a proven path to a better life, as 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage of over $50,000. Many countries throughout the world have recognized the importance of apprenticeship training programs for decades and it is long past time we do so as well.

More than 50,000 of us work in higher education, as faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate student employees and clerical, technical and support staff. Our academic workers are spread out across the United States, including graduate employees at the University of Massachusetts, University of Washington, New York University, University of California and California State University. Ongoing organizing campaigns at colleges and universities mean that number will rise.  For these workers, there’s a direct connection between federal support for education and research and their wages, benefits and job security.  Attacks by university administrators on the right to organize are denying workers in higher education a voice when they need it most.

It’s not just workers employed directly in colleges and universities who have a stake in the future of our higher education system, but many UAW members are still paying off student loan debt.  Others are struggling to make tuition payments; still others are looking ahead and worrying how they will afford ever-rising tuition bills when their own children reach college age.  With a post-secondary degree becoming an increasingly important credential, the cost and quality of higher education and the availability of student financial aid are key economic concerns for all working families.

A Union Voice for the Higher Education Workforce

Low-paid workers with limited or no job security increasingly do the world-leading teaching and research conducted in our colleges and universities. Academic workers often carry the burden of low pay, limited benefits and a lack of employment security. Poor working conditions make academic careers less and less attractive, and put the long-term future of higher education and research at risk. Graduate teaching assistants and part-time or adjunct faculty, paid by the course, now represent over 60 percent of total instructional staff. Graduate research assistants and postdoctoral scholars with short-term appointments conduct a growing share of academic research. The key to improving conditions for academic workers is the right to organize and bargain collectively. We will continue to fight for bargaining rights for all academic workers.

Accessibility and Affordability of Higher Education

Even as states restore some funding, support for higher education remains well below pre-recession levels. Funding cuts have driven up tuition as states shift costs onto students, causing an explosion in student loan debt that is weighing down an entire generation. The average student loan debt was close to $30,000 in 2014. President Obama has worked aggressively to address this problem by raising the Pell Grant maximum – the number of Pell Grant recipients thus expanded by 50 percent. Now, it is time for Congress to do its part by investing more money to make college affordable and reduce crippling student debt.

Research Funding

The colleges and universities that carry out much of the research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest single source of research money for universities, have been starved of resources for more than a decade. We support increasing federal investments for NIH and the increase should not be financed by reducing other critical programs. We also call on federal agencies to ensure adequate pay and benefits for workers on federal grants.

The investment of federal dollars in medical and scientific research has a high return, leading to innovations that benefit the entire country and support thousands of new jobs.  Cuts in research funding hurt our long-term health and competitiveness.  At the same time, many universities that receive federal funds have been squeezing the workers who do the actual research.  Increasingly, these workers are not tenured faculty, but low-paid graduate student employees and postdoctoral scholars in short-term positions.

Along with our strong support for increased research funding, we also call on federal agencies to ensure adequate pay and benefits for workers on federal grants.

Funding Vocational Education at Community Colleges

As the world economy becomes more competitive, the strength of our nation depends on the education and skills of our workforce. We support President Obama’s proposed American Graduation Initiative that was introduced in July 2014 to aid American workers in attaining the skills and training we need to succeed. Under the program, community colleges could build partnerships with businesses and the workforce investment system to create career pathways by building essential skills relevant to local labor markets.


The United States needs more skilled workers. Apprenticeship – the worker-training model that combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction – is common around the world, yet relatively underused in the United States. Apprenticeships in skilled trades and high-growth fields, such as advanced manufacturing, are an investment in our country’s future. Apprenticeships that partner employers, labor, schools and local governments are a proven way to a better life, as 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs with an average starting wage of over $50,000. We support President Obama’s actions to increase federal funding for apprenticeships and believe that states should establish these proven workforce development tools

Key Talking Points and Actions You Can Take

  • The exploitation of many academic workers is putting the quality of American higher education at risk. Workers in higher education need and deserve a union voice.
  • Federal programs to make college accessible must be expanded.
  • Academic research is an important driver of innovation and economic growth – it is an investment in our future as a country. Increased funding is necessary and should not come at the price of academic freedom.
  • We need to help our community colleges develop, improve and provide education and training to meet our economic needs for a skilled workforce.
  • Apprenticeships are critical to expanding our skilled trades and creating well-paying jobs that support our local and national economies.
  • ACTION: Call on public officials at all levels to support the right of all academic workers to organize and bargain collectively.
  • ACTION: Tell Congress to act to invest in making college affordable.
  • ACTION: Tell Congress to increase federal support for research funding that is not financed by cuts to other critical programs and to ensure adequate pay and benefits for workers on federal grants
  • ACTION: Urge Congress to support worker-training initiatives and invest in apprenticeship programs to help American workers compete in a global economy.
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