Let’s take back our tuition

As members of the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President, we are relieved to see students fighting back against tuition hikes. Approximately 150 UC Berkeley students went to UCSF for the UC Board of Regents meeting Wednesday, thanks to the help of AFSCME, UAW and UPTE; later that night, more than 200 students occupied Wheeler Hall. For those of us who have been on the frontlines, whether through the ASUC or community organizing, it is refreshing to see a wide base of support.

But we remind the student body that while this tuition increase hurts all students and all families, it disproportionately hurts some families more than others. Just because the plan is “predictable” doesn’t mean all families can prepare for an increase, even if they know it’s coming. For low-income families who are already taking out the maximum amount of loans, an extra $612 is not feasible. For an undocumented student, there are still huge barriers that hurt their chances of being able to afford everything that comes with a UC education, even if tuition is supposed to be covered. The UC President Janet Napolitano should still remember the needs of undocumented students because students do not forget her history as the head of homeland security.

Throughout the talks of implementing this “five-year stability plan,” the UC Office of the President has also omitted any discourse on other funding options that exist. If UCOP and the regents took a stance on Proposition 13 reform like the UC Student Association and the student senate of the California Community Colleges has, we could partner to close this loophole and restore billions of dollars every year for education and social services in California. If we had stronger state and UC partners on the UCSA campaign called IGNITE, or Invest in Graduation, Not Incarceration: Transform Education, we could team up to funnel money away from the prison system and into education.

Frankly, if the university treated students like partners instead of pawns, we could be a force to be reckoned with in the face of the state government. Unfortunately, we were blindsided with news of this plan less than two weeks before the regents’ vote Wednesday.

Most of us who are currently enrolled students cannot remember the last time the university tried to raise tuition. Even those of us who were present at the time might not have been engaged.  While we can all be grateful for a few years of tuition freezes, seniors, super-seniors and a variety of graduate students can remember the sharp tuition increases of 2011 and the protests that followed. Fewer still were present for the 32 percent tuition increase in 2009.

Regents, with their 12-year terms, can easily wait for a class of particularly rowdy students to graduate out; if not for the records and collective memory of the student movement, none of us would remember 2009 or 2011. This proposed tuition increase seems to be timed specifically for now as current students have been lulled into a false sense of security by the tuition freezes. But there is also something more insidious at play here: By proposing a plan that increases steadily over time, are we not priming students to accept tuition hikes every year well into the future? No one has given us answers about what will happen after this five-year period is up.

Enough is enough. Students must demand a tuition rollback. Students, regents and members of the UC Office of the President all agree that we are slipping away from being affordable and accessible, two of the three tenets of the idea of public higher education in California. We believe that many students also feel that we are losing the third: quality. If we are to bring the university back to all its glory, the state, the UC Office of the President and the regents must actually listen to students and their families. Students have proven to be willing to put in the hard work to make change, but we don’t know if we can say the same for the state, the regents and the UC Office of the President.

Signed,

Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president

Ismael Contreras, EAVP chief of staff

Adam Mickelson, state affairs intern

Alex Melendrez, Vote Coalition project manager

Belinda Grunfeld, policy development intern

Bulmaro Vicente, Vote Coalition co-director

Chitwan Kaudan, state affairs intern

Grace Kim, international affairs intern

Hanah Chang, communications director

Hannah He, communications intern

Jessica Douglas, state affairs director

Jobel Vecino, Vote Coalition co-director

Kevin Sabo, legislative affairs director

Louis Trevino, international affairs director

Madeleine Abroms, communications intern

Matthew Lewis, local affairs director

Megan Weitekamp, lobby corps director

Meghan Warner, sexual assault commission chair

Ojaswi Adhikari, community safety intern

Pavel Velkovsky, Vote Coalition intern

Rigel Robinson, state affairs intern

Saif Jivani, national affairs co-director

Shruti Patrachari, Fund the UC campaign coordinator

Sophie Khan, lobby corps staffer

Wes Adrianson, environmental affairs manager