Editor's Note: Universities nationwide were recovering Friday, a day after protests over education budget cuts hit campuses from coast to coast. The protest, dubbed the March 4 National Day of Action, sent thousands of students, educators and supporters to the streets to challenge budget cuts and tuition increases.
PhD Student in Education, UCLA
Director, Social Justice Learning Institute
As the former student Regent in the University of California, I had the privilege of working with leaders on the Board of Regents who, although I did not always agree with, I grew to respect. I’ve watched my former colleagues speak with passion about the impact of fees increases and many would have preferred to not vote on fee increases at all. However, while I would have voted against and completely disagree with the exorbitant fee increases passed by the UC Regents and many other university trustees around the country, I do understand their reasons.
First, our country is fighting hard to emerge from a poor economy and many states and local government revenues have been hit hard.
Second, the Regents believe that fee increases are their only option to maintain the quality of university.
Third, I believe the public would be more upset if the University were to lose its value as an engine of economic growth if the Regents did not act to preserve the institution by raising revenue.
On the other hand, as the former student Regent and as one who has recognized the pain caused by the exorbitant fee and tuition increases, I believe the public is rightly outraged. I clearly recognize the difficulty such increases place on students and their families. In my discussions with students and families throughout California, I have also learned that:
First, many middle-income families are pressed to pay for an education that far outstrips the amount they may have saved, all the while facing the possibility of losing their homes.
Second, low-income students receive additional financial aid, but still walk away with higher debt than many of their counterparts and this is critically important, when you consider the total cost of education (i.e., room, board, books, etc.).
Finally, many upper-income families would rather pay the additional fee increases to maintain the high quality of their student’s education, but are frustrated when faced with additional tax increases in the State.
Frankly, student fee increases amount to an indirect tax on families and students when the State is either unwilling or unable to fully fund education. Unfortunately, K-12 school districts do not have the option to increase fees and instead, must rely on difficult to pass parcel taxes or bonds to stay afloat.
When you add it all up, the University of California, California State University (CSU), California Community Colleges (CCC) and K-12 systems continue struggle during the State’s budget crisis. The economic crisis and poor leadership has resulted in a significant decline in state support for education. Horace Mann once said, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Without an accessible, affordable and quality education either in K-12 or at the university level, we can kiss equal opportunity and economic prosperity good bye.
Thursday’s actions are what I wished for while I served on the Board of Regents because I believe they serve as a wake-up call to our State’s leadership and even to my former colleagues. We cannot continue down the road that will destroy educational opportunity for the most populous state in the nation. California educates nearly 1 out of every 9 students in the country and is home to some of the world’s most innovative corporations, community organizations, social entrepreneurs and a host of other wonderful things.
I believe for the first time, the Board of Regents has decided to stand alongside students, staff and faulty to demand the state prioritize education during these trying times. It is the only stance they should take. However, those of us who care deeply about prioritizing education should recognize the pressure our leaders face when confronted with the difficulty of maintain access, quality, and affordability in public education.
Raising fees/tuition on students and their families to secure the University’s future is not the direction we should take. Collectively, we need a reinvestment in public education by prioritizing its importance in the state budget. On average, for every Californian dollar invested in higher education, we receive a return of three.
As students, faculty, staff and now Regents, we have raised our voices and spoken about our concerns. We have protested, held rallies and some of us have even been arrested. All of these forms of action are necessary in the fight for justice, but we must now vote! We must vote out politicians who do not value education and vote in those who do. We must vote out people who reinforce the establishment and vote in leaders who will bring a new standard. If we truly want to use our voice, we must vote in leaders who speak our truth to the power they hold.
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