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Regents hear student and parent complaints about tuition increases

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010

University of Alaska students argued against a tuition increase being considered by the university's Board of Regents on Thursday, following up on protests Wednesday at the University of Alaska Southeast and other campuses around the state Wednesday.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

University President Patrick Gamble is proposing a significant tuition hike for future years, first taking the rare step of upping the already-set tuition increase for next year from five percent to 10 percent, followed by an additional 10 percent the next year. An alternative proposal would instead raise tuition by 12 percent the second year.

Student leaders argued against the increases Thursday, hoping at least for a more scaled-down plan, and asked the regents to stop turning to students every time they wanted additional money.

Coalition of Student Leaders President Peter Finn challenged former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton's contention that tuition increases were simply the equivalent of the cost of a latte for students.

"How many lattes would a student have to give up to cover these increases?" he asked.

Hamilton proposed the increase before leaving office last summer.

Following years of annual increases that significantly exceeded the rate of inflation, students were no longer facing a minimal additional expense, he said.

"We're not talking about latte money, we're talking about a dividend," said Nikki Carvajal, student government president from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Members of the Board of Regents, in Juneau for a two-day board meeting, defended the proposed increase, saying the university was in an "economic crisis."

Regent Mary K. Hughes of Anchorage said Alaskan education was still relatively inexpensive compared to similar universities in the western U.S.

"All of these other universities raised far more than we've raised, and they've started higher," she said.

Finn responded that Alaska was doing very well economically, while many of those other states were not.

"I think we should look at their economic situation and compare it to ours," he said.

Alaska also provides little help for students from poor families, he said.

"We are the worst state in the nation as far as need-based financial aid," he said.

Alaska has a budget surplus, while many of the other states have deficits and are making big cuts.

Carvajal called the proposed increase "particularly heartbreaking," because students fought hard against it last year, and thought they'd persuaded regents to scale it back then. Now, they're considering doing what they've not done in recent memory, revising upwards an already established tuition level.

"When the board sets this tuition rate, they're telling us whether or not they can afford schools," she said.

Tom Hewitt, a UAF student, recounted a story of a fellow student in Fairbanks, who worked with him at the school's student paper. She was forced to leave school because of financial problems, and took a job at Safeway. She was recently moved into the in-store Starbucks.

"Instead of reporting for the Anchorage Daily News or the News-Miner, (she) is now serving those lattes, eight hours a day, five days a week," he said.

Tami Mulick, a parent of two future UA students, said that she didn't know whether her family would be able to afford tuition for them now.

"God only knows what tuition is going to be in five or six years when my kids enter college," she said.

She urged stronger efforts to save money, such as in landscaping, to hold tuition down.

The regents are expected to consider the tuition proposal today.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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