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July 25, 2002

Students' reactions to tuition hikes vary

Students' reactions to tuition hikes vary

Dozens of Pitt undergraduates have telephoned and e-mailed the Student Government Board office to protest next fall's tuition hikes of 14 percent for Pennsylvania students and 10 percent for out-of state students, said SGB President Kevin Washo Jr.

"I'm sure we would have gotten a lot more feedback if this had happened in the spring or fall," he said. "Students are frustrated, they're upset and you can't blame them."

Following the July 15 trustees meetings, Washo announced that he had sent letters to student leaders at Pitt's regional campuses, the 14 State System of Higher Education schools, Penn State and other state-funded universities, inviting them to convene soon to discuss forming a Pennsylvania Student Association. Working with campus administrators and state legislators, the association would strive "to protect the rights of students and make our education affordable again," Washo said.

SGB also is planning a drive to register 3,000 Pitt students to vote in Pennsylvania's upcoming gubernatorial election, Washo said. "We also want to work with the University's governmental relations staff, to determine how students can become more involved in Pitt's lobbying efforts in Harrisburg.

"It's easy for legislators to shift the state's financial burden to college students when they believe that most Pennsylvania residents aged 18-to-22 don't vote, out-of-state students aren't eligible to vote here, and students don't contribute much money to election campaigns," Washo pointed out.

Washo said he will work more hours and borrow more money next year to pay his own, higher tuition bills. "I feel frustrated by these increases, just like any other student," he said.

But Washo isn't blaming Pitt administrators and trustees. "I believe that this [tuition increase] is the result of the state undermining the efforts of universities across the commonwealth," he said. "I think the administration and the Board of Trustees were put between a rock and a hard place, and did what they had to do to keep our university competitive.

"I wish tuition weren't going up by so much, but unfortunately that was the only way we could compensate for the [3.7 percent] cut in state funding" for the fiscal year that began July 1.

q While trustees were meeting in 2P56 Posvar Hall to approve Pitt's budget on July 15, about a dozen protesters stood outside the building, holding signs such as one that depicted a tiara-wearing Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

"Welfare Queen?" the sign read, continuing: "The chancellor just got an $18K raise [editor's note: actually, a $17,500 raise] this year, and he still can't figure out how to pay a Living Wage & health benefits for all without the students' help."

Unlike SGB's Washo, the protesters blamed University senior administrators and trustees for next fall's double-digit tuition increase — as well as for Pitt's denial of health benefits to employees' same-sex domestic partners, and for paying some staff less than the minimum living wage for Allegheny County workers as recommended by Pitt's University Center for Social and Urban Research.

Only a handful of students were admitted to 2P56 Posvar Hall for the public meetings of the trustees' budget and executive committees, and a few were turned away. One reason for this was the large turnout of local print, radio and TV reporters, who were given precedence in seating. But in addition, the number of chairs provided for the public was half of what it normally had been for governance group meetings in 2P56 Posvar — including previous meetings of trustees committees. Standing room attendance was not permitted.

"The primary reason [for eliminating seating on both sides of the room] was, they didn't want people passing in back of the leadership — the chancellor, the chairman of the board, the chairman of the budget committee — during the meetings," said Robert Hill, vice chancellor for Public Affairs.

q Students' reactions to the double-digit increases were influenced, not surprisingly, by the students' own financial circumstances.

"Currently, since I am not paying for my tuition and am not having financial difficulty, the increase does not personally affect me," said Leah Crutcher, 19, a sophomore biology and Spanish major. "I feel that the tuition hike was necessary in order to contribute to the new basketball arena and other recently constructed buildings. As a student, I feel that the new arena will bring the students together more. I believe that going to Pitt is well worth the tuition."

Rebecca Gorczynski, 20, a senior psychology major, said she did not know much about the increase because her parents pay her tuition. Nevertheless, Gorczynski was concerned about how tuition revenue will be spent. "It seems that the things that they are using the money for are only improving the outside appearance of the school. Meanwhile, I know that the art department needs new equipment," she said.

Kevin Koleszar, 21, a junior computer science major, also was unconcerned about the tuition hike. "Personally it's not going to affect me very much because I have financial aid," Koleszar said. "I am only going to have to pay a couple hundred dollars more, if anything."

Koleszar, who commutes from home to save money on room and board, joked that he came to Pitt because "it was close, it was cheap, and they actually took me."

For others, Pitt's tuition has become anything but cheap.

"I personally don't like the tuition increase because I am an out-of-state student and am now paying upwards of $20,000," said a senior philosophy and political science major who wished to remain anonymous. "With the money [University administrators] bring in with sponsors I find it weird that they have hiked tuition so greatly over the last several years. I was considering transferring but I'll stick it out because some of my credits might not transfer."

Autumn Forrest, 23, a senior ecology major, sympathized with Pitt's budgetary plight but added: "The extra money [to cover the tuition hike] is coming out of my own pocket." Forrest, who commutes, is thankful that she is a senior and needs only a few credits to graduate. "It would be extremely hard for me if I were going back to school full-time, fall semester," she said.

Jumoke Davis, 28, a freshman media journalism major, said he understood the need to increase tuition but believes that students should have more say in how tuition money is used. "I would like to know where the money is going," said Davis, who commutes to campus from Highland Park. "The students should be the ones to decide if their money will finance the new basketball arena."

–Bruce Steele & David Wicclair

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