At the Roosevelt Network, we act locally, but think big. We want to pass local policy now, and we want those reforms to be scalable. 

We believe who writes the rules matters. Shifting decision-making power to communities historically denied political influence and representation in American democracy builds true public power. As a result, government can act as a force for the public good in ways it has been unable or unwilling to.

 

Financialization of Higher Education

Finance is no longer channeling our collective investments to productive uses. Instead, it’s using society’s resources to enrich itself at the cost of students, taxpayers, and communities.

The story of finance in the economy is an old and simple one: The finance sector grows and protects the savings of individuals and institutions, and pools them together to lend and invest in productive causes. Yet, in the early 70s, in pursuit of ever-greater profits beyond the scope of everyday lending operations, banks began to push the scope of finance—building complex debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities, interest rate swaps, and many riskier financial tools. As a result, the finance sector ballooned and began to occupy an increasingly central role in our economy. Its newfound power over our economy led many corporations to focus on compensating shareholders and investors, rather than workers,  vastly slowing down innovation, productivity, and job growth. In the process, wages fell drastically, jobs were lost, and our economy stopped working for everyone.  Overall, the focus of economic activity shifted away from the production of goods and services to the financial sector. Finance became the new “American State Religion”(Davis 2009). Today, finance accounts for 25 percent of all corporate profits in the United States, but it only creates 4 percent of the jobs in the economy. And, contrary to its supposed role in the economy channeling investment to productive use, only about 15 percent of the money entering the financial sector ever leaves it.

Fow chart showing how education used to be a pathway for economic mobility, is now a privilege, and should be a public good.

Institutions of higher education have not been immune to the financial sector’s increased power. Wall Street has preyed on the financial crisis that universities across the country are experiencing, advancing their priorities in a manner that ensures greater financial profits at the expense of students, faculty, and campus workers. The questionable endowment investments of colleges and the proliferation of risky derivatives like interest rate swaps, as examples, stem from the same causes—the absence of effective structures of transparency and accountability to check the concentration of power on college campuses. Instead, financiers and their associates are exercising outsize influence on campus: They hold decision-making power in all aspects, including tuition costs, construction budgets, salaries, faculty hiring, endowment investments and much more. Our Financialization of Higher Education Report, for example, found that just one financial tool—interest rate swaps—had cost 19 schools a combined $2.7 billion. In the process, higher education now looks more like a pay-to-play system than one that was designed to ensure access and equity for all.

The impacts of financialization go well beyond just higher education. From city governments to water suppliers to our schools and beyond, the financial sector continues to skim profits from society’s resources and build greater wealth for itself. 

Since 2008, the 10 Ideas journal has elevated the ideas of young people seeking not only to rewrite the rules for their communities, but to change who writes them.

10 Ideas

10 Ideas is an annual Roosevelt Network program that generates student policy proposals. Each year, students research, write, and advocate for ideas originating from the program’s trainings and workshops. 10 Ideas policy proposals demonstrate our commitment to equity and inclusion and reinforce our mission to strengthen public goods and public power. Across our six issue areas—education, economy, human rights, democratic access, health care, and energy & environment—Roosevelters are moving the country toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all.

In the fall of each year, undergraduate students from across the country submit their policy proposals with the hopes of being published in print or online. After a competitive evaluation process, the top 10 policy submissions are published each year in our 10 Ideas journal, and an unrestricted amount of outstanding ideas are published online.

Policy Challenges

In 2017, the Roosevelt Network built the Re: Public Project, designed to fight for accessible, equitable, and transparent public goods by strengthening our public institutions and combating the trend of privatization. In line with this bold vision and our will to act, we launched the 2019 Policy Challenges, enabling Roosevelters across the country to work with local campaigns and organizations devoted to pushing for the common good.

We connect with Roosevelt partners that have built campaigns to either strengthen public institutions or challenge the privatization of local goods, and are actively seeking policy ideas and research analysis from students like you to strengthen existing coalitions. Participants will connect directly with Roosevelt partners on the ground and channel their research, organizing, and advocacy skills to their existing coalition efforts. They will have support from national staff to guide them through their work in biweekly check-ins and spring webinar programming. 

Moreover, Roosevelters applying to Policy Challenges who are also interested in the Spring Incubator can work on their Challenge projects in both opportunities—and get a bonus point for their Spring Incubator application! Those applying for both can indicate which challenge they applied for in their Spring Incubator application form. Please note that the incubator structure requires 5–7 hours/week of group work and is a paid opportunity. Students can participate in Policy Challenges outside of this structure (with more flexible requirements) with the support from national staff described in the paragraph above.  

Past Policy Challenges


College affordability & student debt research (2019)
The opportunity to support research on student debt and affordability issues, focused on understanding current free college/college affordability proposals, the values they promote, and trade-offs of each proposal. Students will work remotely alongside Julie Margetta Morgan.
Financialization research (2019)
The opportunity to support research in financialization of higher education issues, focused on investigating current trends and understanding the state of financialization in institutions across the country. Students will work remotely with Professor Charlie Eaton, one of the leading researchers in this field of study, and his research assistants to understand the state of financialization in institutions across the country.
Boston Teachers Union (2019)
Support coalition work with the Boston Teachers Union, working with community organizers, parents, labor representatives, students, and teachers on their current initiatives related to universities.
American Association of University Professors – Cincinnati (2019)
Work with the American Association of University Professors at the University of Cincinnati to support coalition work focused on the university’s financial management practices, administrative bloat, and overspending on construction and athletics in recent years.
New York City (2018)
The MTA system’s problems are manifest. The price of access to the subway (a basic necessity for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers) is spiraling, especially for those least able to afford it; delays are rampant; trains are overcrowded; fare evasion arrests are constantly on the rise; and the MTA itself is bankrupt. That’s why Roosevelt is joining with New York partners, including the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) and the Riders Alliance, to support their ongoing advocacy for equitable access to the New York City transit system, especially for low-income communities. Currently, one in four New Yorkers cannot afford subway or bus fares. The Fair Fares campaign led by Riders Alliance is advocating for the city to build a program that would allow low-income New Yorkers to purchase MetroCards at reduced rates.
Boston, MA (2018)
In Boston, Roosevelt is working with partners at Community Labor United, Partnership for Working Families, and LittleSis. Community Labor United is embarking on a bold campaign that involves pushing back on statewide privatization and ensuring the protection of our most important public resources, including education, transit, and infrastructure. One part of the campaign will be identifying and holding accountable the corporations and other Massachusetts power brokers who back and benefit from Governor Baker’s agenda to privatize our most important public goods. Understanding who these actors are, how they plan to get what they want, and how we can intervene to stop them and win more justice for our communities is key. Community Labor United, Partnership for Working Families, and LittleSis are working together to train a team of social justice researchers who will help us identify and understand Massachusetts’ key corporate privatizers and power brokers. In addition to supporting the coalition’s work on power-mapping, Roosevelters interested in participating in the Policy Challenge have the opportunity to work on examining and identifying new ways in which the statewide Pacheco Law can protect the public goods that residents depend on.
Washington, DC (2018)
City leaders in Washington, DC, are planning to build a new jail to replace two outdated and decrepit facilities. ReThink Justice DC, a coalition of criminal justice reform organizations, is intent on holding city leaders accountable and believes this is an opportunity to both pass meaningful criminal justice reform to limit the new jail’s inmates and build a facility meant for rehabilitation rather than punishment. Research is needed on cutting-edge facilities in and outside of the US that provide innovative programming, treatment, reentry services, recreation, education, job training, and more. This research can then be applied to the specific conditions within DC’s criminal justice system to produce a progressive model jail for the city.
Pittsburgh, PA (2018)
In Pittsburgh, Roosevelt is partnered with Pittsburgh United, a coalition of community, labor, faith, and environmental organizations committed to advancing the vision of a community and economy that work for all people. Through their Our Water campaign, they’ve been advocating for protecting the community’s access to safe and affordable water through financial duress for the Pittsburgh Water Authority.
Charlotte, NC (2018)
Action NC works to address the root causes of inequality and poverty so as to break down systemic barriers to equal opportunity and access. They achieve their goals through their organizing and educational campaigns across multiple issue areas including education, immigration, health care, and affordable housing.