Students Lead Charge for Tuition Relief

    With undergraduate fees increasing by 94 percent over the
    past six years, the first student-led ballot initiative proposes a five-year
    freeze on hiking tuition costs at the University of California and California
    State University institutions for resident undergraduate students.

    Supported by the nongovernment organization Greenlining
    Action, a group calling itself Tuition Relief Now has proposed the College
    Affordability Act of 2008, which would block future education fees from
    surpassing the inflation rate. The Student Affirmative Action Committee
    oversees the campaign at UCSD, which has until mid-April to collect the 434,000
    valid signatures required to qualify the act for the November 2008 election
    ballot.

    “Imagine how it’ll feel for a student to walk in the
    governor’s building and present half a million petition signatures,” Campaign
    Director and UC Berkeley student Chris Vaeth said. “That puts a lot of power
    into the hands of students — something we’ve never had before.”

    Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a
    $332-million reduction in state funding to the UC system. The state’s
    $14.5-billion budget deficit will potentially provide the UC system with
    hundreds of millions less than the UC Board of Regents’ request for next
    academic year, and the cuts are projected to impact enrollment growth, tuition
    costs and individual university programs.

    “This budget proposal will have serious impacts on our
    ability to deliver on our mission for our students and for the people of California,”
    UC President Robert C. Dynes said in a press release. “State funding for the
    university is not an expenditure but an investment — an investment that
    produces real returns through an educated workforce, a dynamic economy, job
    creation and new tax revenue.”

    The budget reduction would increase undergraduate tuition
    fees by at least 7 percent for 2008-09, depending on the regents’ final
    decision regarding financial aid allocations.

    In 1960, the California Master Plan for Higher Education was
    developed to act as guidance for the UC system’s goals. The document proposed
    tuition-free education for resident undergraduates, allowing only housing and
    supplementary fees. But in the past four decades, fees have grown
    exponentially, contradicting the statements held within the Master Plan,
    according to Vaeth.

    UC undergraduates’ tuition in 1979-80 was $736 in comparison
    to this academic year’s $7,511 fee.

    TRN was developed with the objective of redirecting the UC
    system back toward its original manifesto of a more affordable college education,
    though the effort’s limited finances have necessitated heavy student
    participation.

    Despite its small funding base, the campaign has seen
    success in growth due to a large volunteer base and an organized, credible
    nonprofit institution — key strengths that separate the initiative from past
    student-led organizations, according to Thurgood
    Marshall
    College

    senior Nicole McElroy.

    McElroy, also the SAAC chair, said she became involved
    because of her $14,000 debt from student loans.

    “Our tuition has doubled in the past six years, but not
    necessarily the quality of our education,” McElroy said. “There’s less
    one-on-one between faculty and students, and new buildings are constantly made
    — but it doesn’t seem like our increased tuition is being directly targeted to
    benefit students.”

    The act would impose a 1-percent tax on California
    residents with annual incomes exceeding $1 million, requiring that 60 percent
    of the estimated $2-billion revenue to go to UC and CSU institutions. The
    remaining educational funds would be distributed toward K-14 education.

    The initiative has gained support from students and parents
    who are tired of inflating tuition fees, Vaeth said.

    “Students realized something cohesive had to be done to stop
    the fees from hiking up again,” he said.

    Additionally, the legislation would create an accountability
    board consisting of students, administrators and faculty members to monitor the
    allocation of the new tax’s funds.

    The accountability panel would help make budget
    distributions more transparent, according to A.S. All-Campus Senator Utsav
    Gupta.

    “This campaign is an effective way to bring light to an
    issue that’s affecting a lot of students in California
    and hopefully we’ll be able to see some reform,” Gupta said. “The legislation
    will affect two million resident UC and CSU undergraduates — I think we can
    definitely get some good change out there for students.”

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