Students demand tuition relief

UC Merced student Matt Siordia mentors at Reyes Elementary School.  He favors limiting tuition hikes and says his pay isn't going up.
UC Merced student Matt Siordia mentors at Reyes Elementary School. He favors limiting tuition hikes and says his pay isn't going up. Modesto Bee

After seeing their tuition and fees at the state's public colleges increase nearly 100 percent over five years, students are leading an effort to freeze tuition.

Under the banner of Tuition Relief Now, students in the group and organizers are gathering signatures to get the initiative on the November 2008 ballot.

For the next five years, it would limit tuition hikes to the rate of inflation at the 23 California State University campuses and 10 University of California campuses. To make up the funding gap, the initiative would tax millionaires by an extra 1 percent.

Low- and middle-income families are finding it increasingly difficult to afford college, but the state's and nation's success and economies depend on an educated work force, students say. With less financial support from the state, CSU and UC administrators have turned to students to balance their operating budgets.

Although most students support the idea of a tuition freeze, some understand the need to get the money from somewhere.

What some local UC and CSU students think of the ballot initiative:

"I'm totally in favor of a tuition freeze. I think colleges should be free for everyone. ... In reality, us students are going to have to take (this issue) to the streets and to people's minds instead of the halls of university."

-- Doug Pearlman, history student, California State University, Stanislaus

"I like that. I would be all for that. I pay for my own tuition through loans and working on campus. As fees increase, my pay isn't increasing. I don't want to go into debt."

-- Matt Siordia, business management junior, University of California at Merced

"I wouldn't want to tie the hands of the (CSU) Board of Trustees if they don't get funding from the state. I don't want to tie their hands, make it so they have to cut faculty positions or campus-based serv-ices."

-- Andrew Janz, public policy graduate student and student body president, Stanislaus State

"I'm for attaching (increases) to the (inflation) index. I'm really for that, as a student. I'm looking toward the future for future students, at keeping higher education from consistently going up. The budget is obviously, painfully going up. The CSU is about affordability and quality education. That availability aspect is diminishing quite rapidly."

-- Alex Bocanegra, computer information systems senior and student body vice president, Stanislaus State

"I'm on both sides. Sometimes it's required to get a fee hike, but if it's just for the regular funding of the university, they should figure it out (without increasing fees). ... I think it's good to tax the rich. Perhaps we'll have more rich people to tax when we get out of school later on."

-- Uday Deep Bali, engineering senior and student body president, UC Merced

"The issue is bigger than 'Let's tax people who have money.' A budget reflects your priorities and (from) the amount of funding the CSU gets from the state, higher education is not a priority. ... When baby boomers are retiring and we need people to fill those jobs, it just hurts the state in the long run to hamper students' ability to go into higher education. (Increasing student fees) needs to be addressed somehow."

-- Brittany Jibby, communications senior and student body vice president, Stanislaus State

For more information about the initiative or Tuition Relief Now, go towww.tuitionreliefnow.org.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached atmhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.