By Canyon Lalama, University of Minnesota Student
The recent slowdown in the global capitalist economy has left state and federal governments sinking into a quicksand of budget deficits and crises. The politicians representing big business plan to climb from this pit on the backs of those who can least afford it, including students.
While the costs of higher education continue to escalate, funding has failed to keep pace. Nationally, funding for 2002-03 increased by just 1.2%, a decline from 3.5% the year before and the smallest increase in over a decade. In 14 states, higher education appropriations actually dropped. The largest cut was in Oregon, which decreased its education budget by 11%, forcing schools to close early this year.
Students are paying for these cuts with huge hikes in tuition and fees. Nationally, tuition is increasing 13.6% for 2003-04, and this is just the latest round (Record Searchlight, 7/7/03). Last year, Massachusetts students got nailed with a 24% tuition hike, the largest in the nation.
17 states have cut funding for student aid and grants. Massachusetts again led the way with a 24% cut. Even where aid levels remain steady, huge cost increases erode students’ ability to afford school (National Center For Public Policy and Higher Education,1/7/03).
Under these conditions, most students need one, two, or three jobs to get by. But these days, jobs are hard to find. The economic downturn means a particularly tight job market for young workers with few job skills.
Increasing tuition and fewer jobs means many students are falling further into the quagmire of debt. Students finish school up to $40,000 in the red, forced to work jobs they don’t like for as much as 20 years to pay back their loans! With such obstacles, many students are simply forced out of an education (The Gaurdian,1/6/03).
Make the Rich Pay!
Politicians complain that the budget crises force them to cut education budgets. Yet Congress will hand Bush nearly $400 billion for the Pentagon next year. The Iraq war cost an estimated $47 billion! Hundreds of billions more are squandered on tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare scams.
The logic of capitalism is dictating that education must take a back seat to war and corporate greed. Working-class students can’t pay for the budget crisis, but wealthy individuals and corporations can. We should quit funding the Pentagon and corporate welfare, and Bush’s tax cuts for the rich should be repealed in order to pay for the crisis.
Politicians from both parties are guilty of slashing budgets. Last year, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Mark Warner, helped push a $1,370 tuition increase at the University of Virginia – one of the largest increases in the nation (Washington Post 7/22/03). Every state controlled by Democrats, notably Indiana, California, and Washington, have forced through education cuts and cost increases.
The corporate-controlled state governments won’t repeal the tuition hikes. Students need to band together and fight these attacks on our education system.
This student movement must make connections with workers at their schools, who are also bearing the brunt of the budget crisis. University workers are facing wage and benefit cuts, as well as layoffs. We need a united mass movement of students, public sector workers, and all those who rely on public services, in order to stop the tuition hikes, program cuts, and layoffs.
Such a campaign should be seen as the first stage in a fight for free, quality higher education, available to all.
University of Minnesota Campaigns Against Tuition Hikes
At the University of Minnesota, Socialist Alternative student members are organizing a campaign against tuition hikes. Tuition is increasing 27.8% over the next two years, on top of a 25% hike from the previous two years! Already, half of all first-year students don’t graduate, with 47% of dropouts citing the inability to pay as a key factor.
Financial assistance is being slashed. Student parents, for instance, faced an 80% cut in childcare funding last year. Meanwhile, UMN president Bruininks gets a fancy mansion and $340,000 per year for his (dis)services.
We are initiating a campaign to repeal the tuition hikes, fee increases, and other program cuts. We aim to energetically connect students and university staff, who are considering strike action over a proposed wage freeze and benefit take-backs. While the UMN administration tries to divide us, saying that we must accept either tuition hikes or attacks on workers’ living standards, the real solution is a united campaign to force Minnesota big business to cough up the cash.
Join our Campaign Against Tuition Hikes!
email: Marxist@umn.edu or call: 612-760-1980