Scattered clouds, a high temperature in the mid-30s, a bland, gray sky and an air of activism was in the forecast Thursday, Jan. 22. Sign-bearing protesters stood in a semi-circle and listened to anyone who wanted to share his or her story with the crowd that was growing outside the first floor of Ohio University’s Baker Center as classes let out at about noon. From the foibles of the foster care system or the inability of parents to help pay for college, to the necessity of a degree to succeed and move forward with a career, students and graduates shamelessly exposed their troubles. Many came back to rising tuition costs.
Dozens of protesters made their way up the escalators in Baker Center to march down Court Street, all chanting for change.
“Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make the system fall!”
“1, 2, 3, 4, tuition hikes are class war!”
This protest, dubbed “#RaiseHellNotTuition” on social media, was the first of a two-day event organized by the Ohio University Student Union. It was the brainchild of senior creative writing major Ryant Taylor and his counterparts in the organization.
“We knew that the guaranteed-tuition model was being voted on Jan. 23 at the Board of Trustees meeting,” Taylor said. “We wanted to vocalize how students deserve to have a voice in that decision.”
Whether the new model will actually help with college affordability is debatable, he added. In fact, a number of questions about the plan, such as how it will affects scholarships, facilities and faculty salaries and status, remain.
The guaranteed-tuition model, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2014, is a tuition-freezing model designed to keep the cost of college constant for four years for future in-state OU students. The interactive graphic below explains how OU’s guaranteed-tuition model works and shows a timeline of the two days of protests organized by the Ohio University Student Union.
“For me, I see a lot that it’s a trap,” Taylor said of the cost of attending college. “The only way to really fight out of it is to… do what you can while you’re here in university to get the most out of it, but really question and critically think about what’s going on around you.”
As the Ohio University Student Union’s organizing coordinator, Taylor was influential in putting together the protests. This process, he explained, includes everything from sharing information on social media and posting fliers across campus to deciding who will stay behind in a meeting after the police have warned of the possibility of arrest.
“When you’re politically organizing, you have to consider your future plans and we have other things coming in the future that we had to consider,” Taylor said. “You need to know where the police presence will be, you need to understand what your rights are, you need to understand what will probably happen, when you should stand up, when you should start chanting, when to leave the room, and when you leave the room you have to be as non-confrontational as possible.”
ABOVE: Ryant Taylor, a senior studying creative writing, talks about his involvement with the #RaiseHellNotTuition protest on Jan. 22.
Sophomore psychology major Taylor Baird participated at the #RaiseHellNotTuition rally because she wants more clarity about where students’ tuition and fees are going.
“I understand that it’s expensive for them to run this place, but I don’t even know where my money is going,” Baird said. “I would understand (the Board of Trustees) raising tuition if we knew exactly what was happening with that money and what their specific reasons were and just more transparency about it.”
Baird would simply like to know more about what is going on with her money.
“Dorms are falling apart, etcetera,” she said. “Those are things that I see that actually need funding that money is not being put into.”
A former oboe major, Baird said she has seen firsthand the limited resources some departments have, such as the fine arts department. While she recognizes that wanting more money for fine arts programs is a personal preference, Baird would also like to see more funding put toward universal causes, such as the very visible upkeep of buildings on campus and the Survivor Advocacy Program at OU.
Though students are the party most obviously affected by tuition increases, they aren’t the only ones on campus who have to adapt to a malleable budget.
Many scholarships available to undergraduates are based on the amount of money generated by an endowed account for a particular year, explained Valerie Miller, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. There are also scholarships that are funded centrally by the university. These scholarships are generally stable.
“The OHIO Signature Awards program did result in a $2.1 million increase to scholarship funding,” Miller said.
While this increase is quite significant, with the continual increase in tuition, this increase in scholarship funding doesn’t always seem like much to students.
The OHIO Guarantee model was designed to help students and parents plan out the cost of college over a four-year time span. Budget director Chad Mitchell said that the OHIO Guarantee will be beneficial from a financial aid perspective.
“Student costs and aid will be stable over the four year period of time,” Mitchell said in an email. “This will allow students to be able to better project their net costs for four years, and their financial aid will hold its value because tuition and fees will not be increasing during that time.”
At an increase of about 5 percent per year, tuition for the next two “cohorts,” or classes of students, will increase from $11,548 for the 2015-2016 incoming freshman class to $12,125 for the 2016-2017 incoming freshman class. According to an article in The Columbus Dispatch from April 2014, state schools (such as Ohio University) are technically allowed to increase tuition by either 2 percent or $188 per year, whichever value is higher. This could potentially raise students’ tuition by 8 percent over the course of four years, which is more than the OHIO Guarantee.
The following infographic shows tuition and enrollment for the public universities in Ohio, according to data from schools’ individual websites and OPUAC. Click on the bubbles to show more information.
In addition to students and various university offices that have to adapt to changes in tuition, fees and available scholarship dollars, another group at Ohio University who often seems to be overlooked is that of the adjunct professors.
An adjunct professor, according to Dictionary.com, is “a professor employed by a college or university for a specific purpose or length of time and often part-time.” These professors are also often paid less than full-time faculty members are.
Feb. 25 was National Adjunct Walk Out Day, in which such professors across the country participated in a peaceful protest against various injustices faced by non-tenured faculty members. At Ohio State University, the Department of Comparative Studies and the English Department endorsed and decided not to penalize anyone who participated in the peaceful process. Though this national protest was not specific to tuition increases, it showcases another example of financial need at universities across the United States.
This spring’s OU Student Senate race helped spark the debate about transparency between students and the administration. Scholarship award letters for undergraduates are due out any day now. Summer jobs are on the horizon.
So, what does all of this mean?
Tuition hikes aren’t a new phenomenon. Every year, students and their families have to figure out how to afford attendance in the institutions that seem to hold the golden tickets to our futures. With the OHIO Guarantee plan, there is easier access to stability, but is a 5 percent increase for each incoming class the best option? Would students be spending about the same amount if Ohio University were to continue its annual increases of 2 percent or less?
The OHIO Guarantee goes into effect in the fall, and future students will discover firsthand the answers to those questions.