Shouts of “No say. We won’t pay!” and “Chop from the top!” were heard ringing through the halls of UAA on Wednesday, Sept. 22, when students, teachers and community members alike grouped together to protest the proposed 23 percent tuition increase.
Many students may have heard the same protest before. Last spring a similar event was organized to protest the 22 percent increase that was proposed.
Now students are looking at a 23 percent increase, and USUAA is hard at work to stop this proposal. Started by an independent group of students, the protest grew into a statewide event. The universities in both Fairbanks and Juneau volunteered to start their own protests as well.
Throughout the week, UA Chancellor Fran Ulmer sent out emails regarding the tuition increase saying, “Throughout the UA system, tuition comprises on average 11% of the overall UA budget. However at UAA, we rely more heavily on tuition, as it is 25% of our revenue. As a result, UAA’s ability to support UAA programs is more reliant on tuition and tuition increases than the university as a whole.”
Accompanying the chancellor’s emails, were various charts and graphs depicting why the increase was necessary, and how UAA ranked compared to other schools in the country. One of the graphs showed that Alaska’s 4.8 tuition increases for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 were miniscule compared to that of California State University, which was a whopping 27.1 increase.
Even so, students still don’t have the money to afford the continuously increasing tuition.
Everyone was invited to stand in front of the Student Union at 2:15 p.m. wearing black to support the cause to dismiss the 2011-2012 tuition increase. Teachers were also asked to release their classes at 2:00 so that students could have the chance to participate in the protest.
Standing atop a picnic bench, Amie Stanley, senior political science and marketing major, took the lead in the protest, gathering the attention of the onlookers, her voice booming into the megaphone and echoing into the crowd.
Stanley started with a straightforward introduction on how the increase is not only affecting us today, but has been affecting our upper-classmen and alumni from years past.
“…Six years ago, I was paying less than a hundred dollars per credit hour. That number has almost doubled since then,” Stanley said. “Our high school students are not going to want to come here to UAA continue their education if we are in a budget crisis,”
Stanley continued to speak to the crowd, telling them to take pride in their education and stand up for what they believe to be wrong.
“If we can go down to the board and show that students are upset about what is happening here, if we showed that students are paying attention, we are going to be able to do a lot more to stop these increases to keep UAA affordable,” Peter Finn, Speaker of the Coalition of Student Leaders said.
The coalition is a collaborative body made up of all the student governments across the state. Finn was just one of many people who represented the students’ interests at the UA Board of Regents (BOR) meeting in Juneau.
The Coalition proposed that the BOR make no revision on the already approved 2011-2012 tuition and focus on the 2012-2013 with only a 7 percent increase, which they believe is more reasonable.
Since the BOR does not accept presentations via video chat, anyone who wanted to have a say had to fly down to Juneau and present it in person, limiting the amount of voices that could be heard.
“We can send a loud message to the regents that tuition should not be increased another dollar until students are involved in the process,” Nick Moe said, former Government Relations Director for USUAA.
Alaskan Senators were also invited to the protest, most of which couldn’t attend, but a few sent their regards for the protest. One response was that of Senator Linda Menard, who stated she was against the tuition increase and wishes students luck in the fight against it.
State Representative, Les Gara, another guest speaker, said, “You can’t have jobs and you can’t have a vibrant economy unless you have a vibrant university, and that’s a university that people can afford.”
Each speech was accompanied by applause and cheers from the spectators, while each mention of the BOR or the tuition increase resulted in a barrage of boos.
Over 30 people participated in the protest march, many carrying signs expressing their displeasure with the increase, reading various lines such as “Needs based scholarships now,” “My money doesn’t grow on trees” and “Students are not a blank check.”
Starting in front of the Student Union, the group walked to the Administration Building, chanting in unison the whole time. They called to students to join them as the troupe passed by. Even though the protestors received continuous blank stares, they didn’t falter for a second, proudly holding their heads and signs high.
A few protestors even had their children with them, another gesture to show that students have families to pay for in addition to school.
Stopping once the protestors got to the flagpole, Stanley once again grasped the megaphone and gave a few words thanking everyone for their support. She then proceeded to pass out blue papers that included some outrageous facts about the increase. One of which said that tuition has been steadily increasing since 2001 at an average rate of 7 percent.
If this 23 percent proposal passes, the cost per semester alone will be over 500 dollars more than what students pay now, regardless of the previous nine years’ increases.
Stanley’s final words were asking for the assistance of student supporters to send their complaints to those members who voted yes on the tuition increase last spring, and who will most likely vote yes again.
No matter what decision emanates from any of the BOR’s meetings, past or future, it is inevitable that tuition will continue to rise. Students will still dig deep into their pockets to pay the rising costs because they want to complete their education, even if it means putting them further into debt in the future.