In Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR), Socialist Alternative, and others are mobilizing for a mass student walkout on April 28 to fight for a decent future for our generation. We are walking out to say “NO to military recruitment in our schools,” and “YES to equal access to the University of Minnesota.”
Already, on November 2 over 2,000 students from nearly 40 area high schools and colleges walked out against military recruitment and the war in Iraq, also demanding “Money for jobs and education, not war.”
The question of who has access to higher education in the state of Minnesota has become a hot issue. At the U of M, the cost of tuition and fees has almost doubled in the past six years and the average annual cost of attending has gone from $13,524 to $18,852, making it increasingly difficult for working-class students to attend.
The University is also planning to get rid of General College (GC), which admits working-class students and students of color whose underfunded high schools failed to adequately prepare them to meet normal U of M admissions criteria. The two-year GC program is designed to prepare these students to enter the broader University.
While GC was responsible for 15% of undergraduate admissions at the University in 2004, it admitted the majority of incoming African American students and a large part of other minority students. The University’s plan to phase out GC is a cruel attack on access to quality higher education for working-class youth, and must be opposed.
The community anger and the movement that developed against the closing of GC achieved a partial success. Under pressure, the U of M announced a program to cover the cost of tuition for students from families earning under $50,000. The University will spend up to $22 million providing free tuition to 4,500 working class students.
This is clearly a big victory. However it will not replace GC because it doesn’t tackle the problem of getting working class youth from under-funded high schools past the U of M’s increasingly high admission standards. The administration hopes this concession will allow them to get away with more rapid tuition hikes in the coming years.
Rising tuition and the closing of GC is all part of a process dubbed “Strategic Positioning,” to make the U of M one of the top three public research universities in the world. Strategic Positioning is the solution of the ruling class to the budget crisis at the U of M, caused by years of tax cuts for the rich in Minnesota. The Legislature cut U of M funding by 15% in 2003 alone! They are trying to make students and workers pay for the crisis through tuition hikes and program cuts.
At the same time, the University hopes to attract corporate donations by shifting more of its budget to corporate welfare research projects. Research should be done for human need, not corporate greed, and making quality higher education available to working-class youth should be the primary mission of the U of M.
Books Not Bombs
The rising cost of higher education and the lack of available jobs that pay a living wage leave many working-class youth few options after high school. With unemployment among 16 to 19-year-olds at 15%, many see military service as the best of bad options.
YAWR calls for equal access to higher education and living-wage jobs so young people can have a genuine alternative to military service. Alongside calling for an end to the war and to military recruitment in our schools, the April 28 walkout will demand the U of M Board of Regents stop raising tuition, stop dismantling General College, and take immediate steps to increase access for working-class youth.
The cuts at the U of M are part of a worldwide offensive on higher education, making it more and more elite and market-oriented and less about learning. We shouldn’t put our faith in the politicians of either party. In Minnesota and across the country, both Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in these anti-social reforms. Only mass action by youth and workers can improve access to quality higher education and tie the hands of U.S. imperialism.
“Largest Cut in Student Aid Ever”
On February 1, Congress passed a deficit-reduction package that calls for $12.7 billion to be cut from federal student loan programs over five years. In dollar terms, this is the largest single cut in student-aid programs ever and will substantially raise the already high debt burden on students and recent graduates.