The American Federal of Teachers, America’s second-largest education labor union, is now getting involved in college reform.

The secret, AFT says is to “place student success at the center of [AFT’s] higher education agenda.” One wonders what used to be at the center of that agenda. While AFT is a labor union, it’s been surprisingly involved in attempting to enact policy reform, even when the policies don’t have much to do with wages and working conditions.

According to a piece by Doug Lederman at Inside Higher Ed:

No one reading the AFT’s statement on student success will mistake it for the report of Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education or other missives that focus on student learning measures as an accountability tool or urge colleges to produce more graduates with fewer resources.

The document is threaded, for instance, with warnings that colleges and professors will be unable to educate more students — and to give them a meaningfully substantive education — unless public investment in student financial aid increases and state disinvestment in public higher education ceases.

That’s sort of sneaky, but it’s also probably right. As the policy discussions around higher education moved from access to completion, many now worry that students aren’t even learning much in college.

Well you want students to learn and succeed in college? asks the AFT. Then you’ve got to pay for it. We can’t just measure college graduation rates and consider that an effective policy reform. Large class sizes, expensive tuition, limited course offerings, and overworked faculty make it harder for students to succeed. Effective reform would address these issues, not simply reward or push colleges for graduation rates.

Read the AFT report here. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer