Editor’s Note: Throughout this issue, the Foghorn uses “tuition increase” to refer to the total increase in the cost of education, which includes fees, tuition (the term used specifically for the cost of instruction) and room and board.
Calls to stop the 4.4% increase in tuition rung loud in the entrance corridor to Lone Mountain early on March 29 where a board of trustees meeting was taking place in an adjacent room.
Students from “Dons for Fair Tuition”, a group headed by junior Cassie Murphy, staged the protest in response to the announcement about the increase in costs three days prior by President Paul J. Fitzgerald. The group is asking for more transparency about the price increase and more consideration of students’ financial circumstances.
In the announcement, President Fitzgerald did not list any specific financial reasons why the cost of an education at USF would be increasing. Instead, the president said the increase is “necessary to deliver USF’s distinctive education and provide the services that ensure students’ academic success, safety, and wellbeing.”
In addition, President Fitzgerald indicated that the University would be setting aside $139.3 million to fund financial aid for the 2019-20 academic year. This represents a 20.4% increase from last year’s fund.
Students were confused over whether or not their financial aid packages would increase along with the total cost of a USF education. Jeff Hamrick, Vice Provost for Institutional Budgeting, said that current undergraduate and graduate students should not expect to see any bump to their financial aid packages unless their financial circumstances have changed.
Instead, Hamrick noted that the financial aid fund mentioned in Fitzgerald’s announcement is to create competitive aid packages for incoming students.
“There’s a disconnect between the administration and the student body,” Dons for Fair Tuition leader Murphy said. “This is about making that well known.”
Murphy said she will be heavily affected by the increase as she described herself as a low-income student. She feels like the administration and the board of trustees are trying to out-price students. “You only belong here if you can pay for it, but that’s the message that comes out of the administration time and time again,” Murphy said.
Junior Tara Minaee, who is also one of the leaders for the protest group, echoed Murphy’s views. “I’m already working three jobs just to get by,” Minaee said. “I can’t even imagine how much more stress is gonna put on. I mean, forget me, there are other students with much worse situations and I can only imagine that.”
Hamrick noted that the announcement notifying families about changes in fees are sent after the spring census date to finalize numbers. He admitted that the notice this year was late and that it should have been sent earlier.
In response to the outcry for more information regarding the increase, Hamrick said that his office of planning and budget is transparent. He said they post both their recommendations and the final budget online. Hamrick further stated that every December, he presents budget information, which includes potential increases in fees, to the ASUSF Undergraduate Senate. He said that it should be the responsibility of senators to report back to their constituents about potential changes.
Along with junior Corey Kowalczyke, Minaee and Murphy also circulated an online petition. At the time of print, the petition is close to reaching 2,000 signatures.
At the height of the protest, more than two dozen students could be heard yelling chants and stopping people to sign the petition. “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white,” they chanted.
As trustees walked into their quarterly meeting, the students from the group handed a four-page “list of demands” to Julie Orio, Vice Provost for Student Life, and other members of the board of trustees. The demands outlined reasons why USF should not increase the cost of education and listed actions the board should take.
Minaee said the group is trying to plan an open-mic forum where students could pose questions to the administration about the changes in fees and tuition. Currently, there are no details available about the event.
Hamrick said that a rollback in the increase would be nearly impossible because the University’s operating budget cannot change overnight.
Ultimately, Minaee, Murphy and Kowalczyke are optimistic after the protests as the three felt that the board of trustees heard their voices.
In the end, Minaee said, “I just I want this to continue. I don’t want people to be apathetic.”
Listen to this week’s FogPod episode where the Foghorn sat down with Vice Provost Jeff Hamrick to discuss the 4.4% increase to the cost of a USF education as well as reasons why the increase was made. Available online and on Apple Podcasts.