Students share concerns about tuition increase
Tamonda Griffiths – Editor-in-Chief
Sofia Rositani – Reporter
Recently, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ Board of Regents announced an overall 3.8 percent tuition and fees increase to the 2020 academic year.
On Thursday, March 5 the American Association of University Professors hosted an event encouraging students, faculty and staff members to write letters to legislators about their concerns regarding funding to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ four-year institutions.
“I think not enough students know they’re required to be a part of this,” said Associate Member Services Coordinator for the AAUP, Gary Holder-Winfield. “You know your tuition goes up, you know something’s not right, but you don’t see this. You don’t, if you do see it you don’t know that, that the person the sign is asking to come is you.”
The event titled Pens and Pizza was spawned following a previous event called Politicians & Pastries. “We pretty much felt like we needed to capitalize on a little bit of the energy that we got going [from Politicians and Pastries],” said political science major Abdul Osmanu, a freshman, “and really got students involved in this fight to actually get public education funded well.”
Osmanu, who assisted in the organization of Pens and Pizza, said the idea for the event came right after he and another student went to the state capital in Hartford, Conn. to testify at the appropriations hearing.
Holder-Winfield, who is a state Senator for the 10th district of West Haven and New Haven, said the hardest part of an event like this is getting student input.
“What we don’t have are the stories behind [the data] and what happened in your life and how that thing that is a small change in terms of a dollar amount made a huge change in terms of your life,” said HolderWinfield.
While he and his colleagues have plenty of data to back not wanting tuition to increase, HolderWinfield said the personal stories of its effect on students can make a difference too.
Students, HolderWinfield said do not often think of furthering their education until entering university and experiencing what the institution has to offer.
“We have to make sure these universities, Southern, Central, Eastern, Western remain, what we call ‘Universities of opportunity,’” said Holder-Winfield. “It’s an opportunity because you have the ability to access it; when you increase the tuition, you lose that opportunity.”
According to HolderWinfield, about 14 years ago it was reported that more education was needed to be developed to sustain Connecticut’s changing demographics.
“Guess what it’s 2020 and we still haven’t done enough,” said HolderWinfield.
On Feb. 12, during Politicians and Pastries, Chairperson of the Management and International Business Department Greg Robbins, said public education is not, “a private good.”
Robbins said Southern graduates contribute to the state economy and reduce the burden on public support as well as exercise their critical thinking skills.
“In business,” said Robbins, “one of the fundamental, but alas common and seductive errors is to treat as an expense what is really an investment.”
Robbins said it is important to give students the amount of support they need for them to make a return on their investment in their own education and reap all the benefits that come as a result of it.
President of the AAUP and professor of social work Stephen Tomczak, said when he attended the university in 1989 tuition was about $500 per semester and in the time in which his mother-in-law attended, it was about ten percent of that.
“The way I am paying tuition right now,” said political science major, Treqwon Mack, a senior, “is I am using financial aid, on top of all of my student loans, and on top of me paying out of pocket.”
Mack said last semester he paid $1,200 out of pocket. This semester he said he pays $1,800 out of pocket.
“It’s really taking a toll on my financial stability, which in a sense I can’t save for after graduating college,” said Mack.
English major Mike Rabuffo, a freshman said, he thinks the tuition increase is ridiculous.
Rabuffo said he thinks that because students are the future they should keep the rates down.
“I think if enough of us write a letter then they kind of have to listen to us if they want to get reelected,” said Rabuffo. “We are the young people and our vote counts.”
English professor Cynthia Stretch said she was hoping to help other students make a difference.
“I hope the students get the quality education that they deserve,” said Stretch. “They are sacrificing, their families are sacrificing, and the social contract is that they put in the work and the state supports that because it is a contribution to the public good. Over the years that contribution has decreased and meanwhile, students are expected to take out loans to finance their own education and somebody is getting rich off of these student loans.”
Stretch said the people who are getting rich off student debt are the same ones not paying their taxes.
“It’s kind of a vicious cycle where resources are being funneled to the people who need them the least,” said Stretch. “I think my students deserve a high-quality education. It’s increasingly difficult to provide that because we do not have the resources and because they are working so hard and so many hours to stay in school, they can’t do the work that they are capable of doing so everybody gets cheated.”
Stretch had made similar comments during Politicians and Pastries to which state representative for New Haven (D-93) Toni Walker responded.
“We have not, we have not taken, we have savings and things we have not reinvested back into industries that we have savings for and that’s part of the problem and it’s not just with education,” said Walker.
The lack of reinvestment Walker said can be seen in the infrastructure and the K-12 system.
According to Walker, there has been a reduction in the state budget of 17 percent over the last 15 years.
“The concept was that our government was too big, and we make too much money and that’s not at all true,” said Walker. “So, a lot of the myths created the problem. One of the things that really hurts my heart most is that when we do a budget the higher education department is about $308 million; the department of corrections is $603 million.”
Incarceration, Walker said should be used to rehabilitate individuals, instead, it is being used as a means of “separation and segregation.”
Walker said she hears more from Southern, Gateway Community College and Housatonic Community College about what it means to be a student today.
Stories from students at the state universities, Walker said, help illustrate to legislators the struggles of being a student today.
“It’s important that education not be an outlier,” said Walker. “Education is the equalizer.”