Tuition town hall: Students come out swinging

(From left to right) Donald Heller, Michael Beseda, Jeff Hamrick, and Paul Fitzgerald listen to a student question during the Nov. 6 Senate town hall. HAYLEY BURCHER/FOGHORN

ASUSF Senate held a town hall meeting on Oct. 6 for students to voice their opinions on the University’s proposed 4.9% tuition increase. Along with members of the ASUSF Senate and the University Budget Advisory Council, four major members of USF’s senior leadership were present: Jeff Hamrick, vice provost for budget and planning analytics; Michael Beseda, vice provost for strategic enrollment management; Donald Heller, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and USF President Paul Fitzgerald. 

The town hall opened with a land recognition statement from senior Malia Rivers, encouraging those present to be cognizant of indigenous spaces and inclusivity. 

ASUSF President Hector Bustos and Vice President of Finance Tiana Valerio laid out the expectations of all participants: Students had the right to transparency from the administration about the budgeting process, audience members should ask and answer questions with respect, and all questions were expected to be given clear answers.

Hamrick began the presentation portion of the town hall by itemizing the increased budget proposal, which accounts for an additional $4 million in faculty wages and $1.5 million in benefits, with an average 4.8% raise per faculty member. For staff members, compensation increases include an extra $2.6 million in wages and $1 million in benefits, averaging in a 3% raise for each staff member. 

Hundreds of members of the USF community attended the tuition town hall. HAYLEY BURCHER/FOGHORN

The proposed budget would also include an additional $4 million toward financial aid packages, however, this aid would not be available to continuing students — only new ones. 

Other notable increases would include $600,000 to the Information Technology Services (ITS) department, $540,000 to facilities contracts, $170,000 to Gleeson Library and its subscriptions, $150,000 to faculty development, and $200,000 to what is categorized as “other.”

Hamrick stated that the intent behind the “other” category is to “increase [the] budget to cover unforeseen contingencies.”

Beseda prefaced his portion by waxing nostalgic about his own college finance struggles and stressed that universities must follow strict guidelines when dispensing federal and state aid — aid which has not grown proportionately with the rapid increase of higher education costs. 

“It always goes up,” said Beseda in response to why tuition rates seem to be climbing without a ceiling. His best recommendation to shield students from the climbing cost? Filling out their Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) accurately. The suggestion was met with displeasure from the audience.


It always goes up.

Michael Beseda

After these presentations, the town hall opened into a forum, taking audience questions both from a microphone and from pieces of paper that were anonymously passed to Bustos and Junior Class Representative John Iosefo, who took turns reading these questions aloud.

Several students brought up concerns about how the increase may affect undocumented students, noting that applying for federal or state aid may pose a risk to these students’ safety by exposing their residency status and other sensitive information. 

Heller eventually responded: “We treat DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students just as we treat others receiving aid.” He didn’t provide a clear plan on how to alleviate the impact on undocumented students, but cited services like the University Ministry and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) as resources that could offer support.

In response to how student feedback was and is taken into account, the panel agreed that they have reacted with a greater commitment to transparency than in past years. However, when a student asked if USF staff payment could be published publicly (only faculty payment is currently visible online), Fitzgerald was hesitant, noting that “… publication is a difficult thing. It would have to be done through HR [Human Resources] and then even approved by our legal counsel, who wouldn’t encourage that.”

Several students circled back to issues regarding how expense increases disproportionately affect students of color. USF markets its high rate of racial diversity and support programs for low income students; however, many dissatisfied voices suggested that the University uses bodies of color for marketing, then neglects these students once they arrive on campus. Students used the example of the Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) initiative operating without the full-time program director it was promised at its inception.

When this accusation was brought forward by a student, Fitzgerald responded directly at first: “BASE is something I’m most proud of.” 

A follow-up question was then posed, asking if BASE would, in fact, receive a full-time director to support its scarce leadership. After considerable delay, Fitzgerald eventually answered “yes.”

After the town hall ended, faculty, staff, and administration were asked to leave the room and students were encouraged to stay behind for a student-only session. Cassie Murphy, ASUSF vice president of internal affairs and one of the founders of Dons for Fair Tuition, a student advocacy group, encouraged every student to start thinking of solutions that could offset the increase.

“We are going to do as much as possible for continuing students and low income students,” Murphy said.

Students interested in taking action were welcome to attend Sundaes with Senate on Thursday, Nov. 14 to talk with their representatives. The final decision on the tuition increase is slated for the Board of Trustees meeting on Dec 6.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misquoted a statement made by President Fitzgerald and has been updated and corrected. The Foghorn regrets the error.

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