Tuition Hikes: Protests in California and Elsewhere


Tuition Hikes: Protests in California and Elsewhere

Facing reductions in state funding, public universities from Michigan to
Arizona to North Carolina have slashed budgets and hiked tuition. The most
extreme case is California where University of California regents voted this
week to increase tuition a whopping 32% to more than $10,000 annually — a
three-fold increase in a decade. The move was greeted by student
demonstrations.

During two days of protests at UCLA, where the UC regents met to vote on
the fee increase, about 2,000 students from the 10-campus system confronted
riot police, shouted slogans and blocked building exits. Like a scene out of
the angry 1960s, students surged against barricades and briefly siezed a
building on the main campus quad; police used taser guns on several
protesters, nearly 20. All the while, police helicopters hovered overhead,
TV vans with high antennas stood ready and students played drums and
strummed guitars.

At a sit-down strike that blocked vehicles from leaving, UCLA student
leader Michael Hawley spoke through his bullhorn, “We want one regent to
come out to speak to us about why the world’s richest country will be
denying some students higher education next quarter.” Police responded by
telling demonstrators they had three minutes to leave before being arrested.
Then, forming a flying wedge, police led a small group of regents to another
building.

Addressing 100 students blocking a parking garage driveway defended by
eight visored police with billy clubs, UCLA Sophomore Chiemela Okwandu told
the crowd, “This is our university. We can sleep here if we want.” Speaking
to TIME, Okwandu said the $2,500 tuition increase will be a major problem
for many students. “Some of my friends won’t be here next quarter. Before it
was a question of how smart you were. Now, it’s do you have enough money to
pay for school.” Veronica Hernandez, who grew up in East LA and attends UC
Riverside, said, “It took a long time for minorities to increase their
numbers at the University of California. Now those numbers are going to go
down.” University officials say many students would be shielded from the
effects of the tuition hike by additional financial aid.

UC President Mark G. Yudof said the tuition increase is unfortunate:
“When you have no money, you have no money.” And the budget woes in
Sacramento continue. California’s budget analyst announced this week that
the state is facing another huge deficit next year — $21 billion of red
ink.

Amid signs reading “RIP Affordable Education” and “California #1 in
Prison Spending, #48 in Education,” Emily Bischof, a fourth year geography
and environmental studies major at UCLA said the cuts are significant.
“Upper division classes that once had 30 students now have 80 or 100
students and there are no teaching assistants. Professors are giving
true-false, multiple choice Scantron exams.” Nicole Garner, a fourth year at
UC Riverside, blames the state’s famous tax revolt for the university’s
financial troubles. “Proposition 13 has to go,” Garner said.

From 2002 to 2006, the share of educational costs represented by student
tuition rose from just over one-third to nearly one-half at public four year
institutions across the country. “Students are paying more and getting less
in the classroom,” says Jane Wellman, author of “Trends in College
Spending,” a report by the Delta Project, a Washington, DC nonprofit that
tracks postsecondary education costs. The amount of money spent on
instruction has declined at all institutions — public and private —since 2002.

The main reason that costs — and tuition — are rising at public
universities is a drop in state support. According to Wellman, in 2006,
state taxpayers spent $7,078 per student at public research universities.
That’s nearly $1,300 less than in 2002. Any spending increase has been
largely for administration, maintenance and student services, not
instruction. At many public universities, the deep recession has made the
situation worse.

In Lansing, Michigan, this week approximately 30 Michigan State
University students and faculty picketed the state capitol to protest budget
cuts and tuition hikes at Michigan’s public universities. In a state
hammered by the recession, in-state and out-of-state students at the
University of Michigan saw tuition rise 11.6% between the 2007-08 and
2009-10 academic years to $11,659 and $34,937, respectively. In Arizona,
two tuition hikes within five months added $1,000 to the bills of incoming
freshman. For the new students at Arizona State University, tuition and fees
spiked 20% to $6,840 a year.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a group of students on Wednesday
protested a plan by the UNC Board of Trustees’ audit and finance committee
to raise tuition 5.2% for undergraduates. Trustees said increase would
generate nearly $4 million for the campus and would allow the university to
continue to compete for top faculty.

Regents at the 174,000-student University of Wisconsin system have
adopted tuition hikes of 5.5% for the past three years. UW System President
Kevin P. Reilly says the “modest and predictable” increases have allowed the
university to avoid curbing enrollment or cutting programs even as class
sizes increase. UW-Madison’s tuition still ranks as one of the lowest in the
Big 10.

But in California, Jeff Bleich, the outgoing chair of the 23-campus
450,000-student California State University system, warns, “California is on
the verge of destroying the system [of higher education] that once
made this state great.” Disinvesting in higher education is an economic
mistake says the UC Berkeley law school graduate, “For every dollar the
state invests in a CSU student, it receives $4.41 in return.”

Speaking for public university presidents across the nation, UW’s Reilly
says, “It is simply not possible to maintain the integrity of our academic
programs, the quality of our university experience, without raising tuition
— particularly in the face of ongoing declines in state support.”

See TIME’s special report on paying for college.

See pictures of a diverse group of American teens.

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