February 22, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
A group of San Jose State University students gathered Tuesday noon at the Campus amphitheater to protest the 40 percent tuition fee hike proposed by Governor Wilson. The State of California faces a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall next year. The State must either find money to meet operating expenses, increase taxes or make more budget cuts.
The students gathered at the rally heard leaders explain to classmates the expected impact of the increased fees and what actions they should consider to draw attention to a proposal that they feel is unfair.
The students group leading the protest. “Students United for Accessible Education,” reminded their fellow classmates that California law, 9 in SB 195, restricts fee increases from exceeding 10% per year. The new fees under consideration clearly exceed that limit. Student leader Juan Haro said that. already, student fees increased 35% between 1989 and 1992 at the State College level and fees at the UC system increased 92% while personal income in California has only increased by 15%. According to a California Student Aid Commission Report in 1991-92 over 90,000 or 76% of all needy and eligible applicants failed to receive any financial aid. This at a time when there are even more high school graduates then ever.
The students were very emotional and feeling especially threatened, since so many of them had already borrowed far more money than they felt that they could afford. One student leader asked those in attendance how many felt that they had already stretched themselves to the limit with debt. Great numbers raised their hands in agreement.
One student leader, James Aldana, a junior, said that one teacher who supported the fee increase told him that higher education was a “privilege. ” Aldana said that the notion that higher education is a “privilege is quaint” since even marginally remunerative employment today requires a college degree to qualify for. Another student shouted out “I have a right to have a job and if it requires that I have a college degree to find employment then a college education must be a right of every American.”
Three Professors braved censure and spoke on behalf of the student concerns. Dr. Steven Milner reminded the students that they were being robbed of their education, in part because of the misuse of taxpayer money such as that revealed recently at Stanford where millions of taxpayer dollars were spent on such frivolous items as $7,000 dollar sheets for the University Presidents bed and thousands more for a Presidential yacht. He said that such misuse of taxpayer money at Stanford and other institutions and in other areas of government “left (the students) holding the bag.”
That sentiment was reflected in a student sign which stated “Don’t pay your present debts with our future.”
Milner also questioned the State’s priorities, wherein it spends more money on prisons than on education. Milner and others asked that the students hold the University administration, policy makers and particularly politicians accountable for their decisions in this matter. Others also questioned the Nation’s priorities. The students are making that the government to make support of all levels of education a high priority.
Student leader Aldana expressed disgust that the Governor has framed the budget issue between the poor and university/college students. Some of the students felt that this assault on education was a way of keeping the less economically advantaged (of whom many are women and people of color) down for the rest of their lives. Some students shouted that this was “educational racism.”
A student’s Coordinator and a group of women from the “Women’s Resource Center” came before the gathering to protest the planned 40% tuition fee increase. The leader pointed out that one of the University’s Dean’s had admitted to her group that even with the 40% fee increase, conditions at the University would continue to deteriorate. A single mother broke into tears when she described her plight. She has only one semester left towards a degree.
The importance of education is not only recognized by the students but admitted by some legislators in Sacramento. In a January report by the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, the first paragraph of the report states that “Higher Education has long served as the key engine to California’s economic growth and quality of life… just as important, higher education has been key to social mobility front the GI Bill students of the 1940’s to the aspiring students of today.”
One student spokesperson told the gathering that to not invest in education will be to increase crime. He used the example of California’s Governor “Reagan shutting down mental health programs to later – as President – nearly die at the hands of a crazy person.” The student said that, now, in addition to the trickle-down theory there is the “ripple theory.”
In 1991, thousands of students were turned away from higher education; it will be worse in 1992. The California State University system alone turned away seven thousand students in 1991. Already students take ﬁve years to finish a “four year” degree. College officials expect that in the future it will take a student six years to earn a B.A. degree. The problem is that there are not enough classes offered anywhere to meet the demand – even at the upper division level (the last two years).
College costs paid by students average $1,000 per year if attending a UC campus and $3,000 per year at a State University such as San Jose State. A fee increase adds signiﬁcantly to the costs of attending college when the students ability to work is limited. One student suggested revising the instructional schedule to better accommodate working students.
According to the Commission report, the new student fees will make California’s Universities among the most expensive public institutions in the nation.
A mother of six, Maria Ortiz, angrily protested the fee increases because she fears that high costs will not allow her children the opportunity of acquiring a University education.
Another, student said that he no longer accepted the notion that, “students of color were dropping out of school.” “Rather, he said, “they are being pushed out of the system.”
Indeed, in the sixty’s when financial aid became available, many students who had not shown “an interest in high school became earnest students when they were informed that “financial aid was available to those who wanted an education and needed financial assistance.” Those very students are today successful adults. Many of those students who became interested in school are today’s leaders in the community as teachers, doctors, lawyers and most of all, taxpayers. To have deprived them of an education would have been a major loss to this State.
Among the students at the San Jose State demonstration are again tomorrow’s community leaders. Their talents should not be lost, unless California does not care about its future.
Though the students were prepared for a longer rally, the rain began to interfere so the students decided to go and seek answers to their many questions. They reconvened at the President’s office at Tower Hall. There they challenged the President, Dr. I. Handel Evans”, who told the students that he “supports them in their concerns. “They responded by asking that he actually demonstrate his “support” by leading a student protest in Sacramento. Monday the 24th. The President said he “could not do that” but declined to explain to the students why. They asked that he sign their petition but he declined to do that as well.
The problems that higher fees have created already is well documented and the situation will only worsen.
The students are asking for broad community support. They ask that parents and others who share their concern regarding the higher tuition fees and cutbacks in education join them in their efforts to lobby the California Legislature.
For more information, contact the Students United for Accessible Education at 929-7042 or contact Dr. Evans at 924- 1990. © La Oferta Newspaper.