Students fight ever-mounting fee hikes
November 29, 2007 9:21 AM
Students fighting the rising cost of public higher education filed a ballot initiative with the state attorney general to freeze mandatory resident undergraduate fees in the California State University and University of California systems.
Students & Families for Tuition Relief Now filed papers for the College Affordability Act of 2008 on Nov. 14. The act would block fee increases for resident undergraduates for five years beginning in July 2009, and prevent future tuition hikes from exceeding the annual change in the cost of living. The act also mandates that California residents pay an additional 1 percent tax on every dollar over $1 million earned, which would provide a new source of revenue, said lead organizer Jeremy Bearer-Friend.
“There’s something wrong with funding for higher education,” said Valeria Fike-Rosales, a lead organizer of Students & Families for Tuition Relief Now. “We need to fund education, but we need to stop creating barriers on the access students have to higher education.”
The filing comes the same week the CSU Board of Trustees and UC Board of Regents voted to oppose Proposition 92, which would change the way money is allocated to state community colleges and lower fee caps from $20 to $15 per unit.
The state attorney general will review and return the documents in 45 days. Students will then have until mid-April to gather at least 400,000 signatures from registered California voters to qualify for the November 2008 ballot.
Greenlining Action provided the infrastructure for Students & Families for Tuition Relief Now. Greenlining Action’s mission is affordable higher education for all, and is a separate but related entity of the Greenlining Institute, which is a multiethnic public policy and advocacy organization based in Berkeley.
“What we do is we create language and submit it to the attorney general,” said Fike-Rosales, who is also a Greenlining Action staff member. “Students are the ones on the campuses and they’ll be the ones collecting the signatures. Greenlining Action helps provide a Web site and connect with students. It’s a lot of financial support we provide.”
The College Affordability Act of 2008 focuses only on undergraduate California residents because “the institution has a priority to serve the people of California,” Bearer-Friend said.
“It’s the children of California citizens who want to know that they can go to schools and the business owners that want to know they can count on an educated work force,” Bearer-Friend said. “The vision is that California parents should be able to know that they can afford a college education. Right now, they can’t trust that.”
Pre-nursing student Alfred Bautista, 19, said that the tuition hikes "make students think twice about wanting to go to a CSU."
"I have a lot of friends that want to go [to SF State], but they may go to a community college to save money," Bautista said. "For fees to increase, it makes me regret going to a CSU right away."
If the act is approved by voters, it would become statutory law – which is not legally binding to the UC Board of Regents, Bearer-Friend said. If the UC rejects the act, they will not receive any funding generated from the act, and the money will be passed on to the CSU.
“The UC is constitutionally autonomous, so that means unless there’s a constitutional amendment, you can’t pass laws the regents are bound to,” Bearer-Friend said. “But they have a strong interest in abiding by [the new act] because they would gain access to the revenue it generates.”
UC spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said that the ballot initiative may be reviewed by the Board of Regents.
“There’s nothing much I can say about that except that would be something that the University of California and the Regents would likely take a position on, but it’s just something that is brand new,” Vazquez said.
Students & Families for Tuition Relief Now met with CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed and other executives to discuss the ballot initiative on Nov. 27.
“We always applaud the students for taking an active role and making sure fees stay affordable, but it’s tough because the CSU only has two sources of funding – the state and students,” said CSU Spokesman Paul Browning. “We’re going to ask for another $73 million to avoid increasing student fees. We’re worried. It’s kind of like a rock between a hard place.”
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