With the economy struggling to recover, funding for public higher education has taken an inevitable hit. But across the country, students are saying: Think twice before depriving us, and your state, of our futures.
With the economy struggling to recover, funding for public higher education has taken an inevitable hit. To close billion-dollar gaps in statewide funding, governors have asked their university systems to cut their budgets, causing ripple effects detrimental to students' lives. All options are on the table--tuition hikes, furloughs, job cuts, eliminating majors, eliminating student programs--and all options mean less money for education and less investment in students. In the slideshow that follows, The Nation offers a window into some of the states making those calls--and the student response. In Washington state, students are seeing double-digit tuition increases. In Nevada, students are petitioning the legislature to prevent financial exigency. In Minnesota, students are seeing their protests make actual change. Around the country, be it a protest or a walk out, the argument is the same: Think twice before depriving us, and your state, of our futures.
Photo courtesy of: Paul Rosales of The Poly Post
An estimated 120 students in a 600-person crowd gathered outside the Michigan House of Representatives on February 3 as Governor Jennifer Granholm gave her State of the State address. The students rallied to bring the Michigan Promise Scholarship, a $4,000 scholarship promised to nearly 100,000 high achieving Michigan students, back to life. Michigan Promise Scholarships were eliminated in 2009. Later that night Gov. Granholm said she intended to revive the scholarship--but her just-released 2011 budget does not restore funding, instead offering students an income tax credit. Thirteen universities in Michigan have planned a rally for higher education on March 25. "Our main objective is to send a message to legislators that higher education should be a higher priority," said Student Senate Parliamentarian Michael Sullivan in The Valley Vanguard.
On February 4 more than 250 Washington State University-Vancouver students rallied for their futures by holding a rally and a "mass walkout" of their classes on their campus plaza. They worried that budget cuts will slash funding for their university by $13.5 million as part of an effort to close a statewide $2.6 billion gap. The cuts could result in a 14 percent tuition increase along with elimination of financial aid and cuts to academic programs. Last year the WSU system took a $54 million cut in funding.
More than 500 students and faculty staged a walk-out February 4 at Eastern Washington University to protest budget cuts and tuition increases. At Glenn Terrell Friendship Mall--a popular student plaza at Washington State University in Pullman-- another 150 students held a similar protest. On top of last year's $13 million in cuts, this year's proposals include another $3 million cut from EWU operations, and $8 to $10 million from financial aid. Lastly, the legislature has considered another 14 percent tuition hike. Tuition and fees at EWU increased from $3,927 a year in 2005 to $5,445 a year in 2010.
Hundreds of students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, walked out of their classes February 9 to oppose Governor Jim Gibbons's proposed budget cuts. In January, Gibbons asked the Nevada System of Higher Education to create a budget with a 10 percent cut--a result of a projected $881 million budget shortfall. (Gibbons had earlier asked NSHE to prepare for 6 and 8 percent cuts.) Chancellor Dan Klaich, speaking on behalf of the NSHE and the Board of Regents, argued that the $110 million cut could put the higher education system into financial exigency, a move that everyone is feverishly working to avoid, he said. Other students from the University of Nevada, Reno and surrounding community colleges have already begun setting up forums, petitions, Facebook groups and other protests demanding a stop to the cuts.
In response to Cal Poly Pomona's proposal to save money by cutting 20 to 30 programs such as physics, philosophy and journalism, a representative from the California Faculty Association, who was with several other students from Students for Quality Education, dressed in a chicken costume at an Academic Senate meeting February 10 with a sign around her neck reading: "This is a chicken-brained idea." The representative, Jackie Teepen, told the The Poly Post, "[The administration] appears to be too chicken to answer any hard questions." This year, the university has had roughly $21 million cut from its $106 million budget.
Photo courtesy of Mitchell Saltzman of The Poly Post
Students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin are organizing the Stop the Cuts Coalition, a group "organizing against the budget cuts and tuition hikes at the University." As of February 10, the group has planned a rally for March 4. In January, Governor Rick Perry asked state agencies to propose budgets for a 5 percent reduction. President William Power Jr. responded with a recommendation from the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee--a 3.95 percent increase in tuition over the next two years or $240 each semester.
On February 11 around 30 students blasted music near Malcom X Plaza in San Francisco to bring "amiable attention to the ongoing demonstrations against fee increases and cut classes" for the California State University system. On Jan. 28, SF State President Robert Corrigan announced another 10 percent increase for the fall 2010 semester. Chants included "They say cut backs, we say f**k that!" and "Who's university? Our university!" "Can you guys afford a 10 percent increase?" Kendall Nevarez said, as reported in the Golden Gate [X] Press. "This is our way of saying 'funk the cuts,'" she said.
Thousand of Washington supporters and student activists attended the annual "Coug Day," a day that brings WSU students to Olympia to lobby--February 14 at the state Capitol. This year students rallied before the Senate voted on the bill to grant three state universities "limited tuition-setting authority." The pilot program would take authority to set tuition away from the legislature and put it in the hands of the Board of Regents, as well as setting limits for tuition increases year to year. On February 15 the bill was approved 29-19 in the Senate, and now heads to the House.
The University of Minnesota is facing a projected $1.2 billion budget deficit. Governor Tim Pawlenty had cut from local government, state aid and human services and lastly, the cut $46 million in higher education, $36 million to the University of Minnesota and $10 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. According to the Minnesota Daily, "Higher education makes up about 9 percent of the state's budget, with the University set to receive $627 million from the state in 2011."
The UC coalition plans to hold a series of protests and strikes on March 4. "The central demands are to stop the fee hikes, rehire laid off workers, increase enrollments, and bargain in good faith with the unions," wrote Bob Samuels, President of the University Council and lecturer at UCLA, in The Huffington Post on February 8. The UC system has quickly garnered national attention as students have struggled with an anti-tax government, while still facing a 32 percent tuition increase. The UC Student Association plans to hold a similar rally organized March 1
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for sweeping education reforms, calling for tuition breaks for students, and reforming the problem with student debt. As one of his biggest reforms, he asked to expand Pell Grants and initiate tax credits so students could afford college education. Recently, he asked for support to increase college preparedness, citing that the United States should not be second place. Yet with an average debt of $23,200, university students can't help but feel infringed and lose sight of an education that they're struggling to afford.