Tuition Relief Now filed California's first student-led ballot initiative with the state attorney general on Nov. 14 in an effort to freeze University of California and California State University tuition fees.
Tuition Relief Now is a group of "students, parents and concerned Californians working to ensure that every student can afford college," according to its website. The site stated further that the group has infrastructure support from Greenling Action, a multi-ethnic, nonprofit public policy organization.
"In the past six years, student fees have doubled; UCs, CSUs are no longer affordable. It's difficult for families to pay for their children to go to school," said Jeremy Bearer-Friend, one of the lead campaign organizers.
Mandatory systemwide UC fees are $6,636 for the 2007-2008 school year. Adding in miscellaneous fees that vary slightly from campus to campus, UC Davis students, for example, will pay $8,925 in tuition this academic year.
The ballot initiative would freeze mandatory student fees for California residents at all UC and CSU campuses for five years. After the five years, fees would not be able to increase beyond the cost of inflation.
Also under the initiative, university administration would report to a committee of students, faculty and citizens to show how much tuition money went to the cost of instruction, including libraries, faculty salaries and teaching materials, Bearer-Friend said.
The initiative also proposes to create a new revenue source for the UC and CSU systems by placing a 1 percent income tax on earners whose income exceeds $1 million.
"The idea of the ballot initiative is to take the power straight to the people, to try something new to address an issue that people have been trying to change for years. Nothing has ever worked before," said Valeria Fike-Rosales, who is a lead campaign organizer along with Bearer-Friend.
The issue of rising tuition fees isn't just affecting low-income students, she said.
"A lot of middle-income students are being pushed out of higher education because they don't necessarily qualify for financial aid, but they also don't have money to fork out for tuition." Fike-Rosales said. "As tuition continues to increase, [middle-income] students are being pushed out of higher education more and more. Tuition Relief Now is working towards demanding an affordable education for all Californians."
After the attorney general gives the initiative a title, summary and proposition number, Tuition Relief Now will have from January to mid-April 2008 to collect 434,000 signatures from registered California voters for the initiative to make the November 2008 ballot.
To raise awareness, "We are working with 30 campuses from Cal State Humboldt all the way to UC San Diego," Bearer-Friend said.
Concerning the ballot initiative, CSU spokesperson Paul Browning said, "We appreciate and encourage students to voice their opinions, but the reality is, we only have two sources of funding -- one is the state, which funds the majority of our budget, the other is student fees.
"This [ballot initiative] is not a real feasible thing for the California State University," he said. "When the state doesn't come through, we have to look at student fees as the only way we [CSU] can make sure we can pay for everything."
"Currently, we are not saying we are going to raise student fees," Browning added. "At this point, all we've done is prove our budget, which will be sent to the governor's office. In that budget, we are going to ask for an additional $73 million to avoid raising fees for students. If that doesn't happen, there is potential for a 10 percent student fee raise."
The University of California is still evauating the initiative.
"At this point, there isn't much I can tell you," said Ricardo Vazquez, a UC spokesperson. "This is something the regents would take a position on. But it is brand new, and at this point we are analyzing it."
Students are enthusiastic about the idea.
"As students, it's empowering to have a say in something that directly affects you as much as the cost of education," said Kevin Powers, UC Davis senior political science major and ASUCD chief of staff.
"The ballot initiative gives the voting population in California the ability to take charge of the rising cost of education. This initiative will help get students an affordable education, instead of [just putting on] a horse and pony show," he added.
Besides UC and CSU students, the coalition is trying to reach out to community college students, high school students and parents.
"We're creating a historic effort to demonstrate student power," Bearer-Friend said. "If students show they can work together, the legislature will have to start listening to them."
© 2007 The California Aggie via U-WIRE