UF students form alliance to fight tuition hikes


UF students announce formation of an alliance against tuition hikes.

Nathan Crabbe/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, November 28, 2011 at 2:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 28, 2011 at 2:21 p.m.

As University of Florida students protest tuition hikes, they might also have new and higher fees inflating their bills.

This week, UF's board of trustees is considering a new "undergraduate enhancement fee" that would be used in part to increase stipends for graduate assistants who teach classes. UF President Bernie Machen has proposed spending $7 million to boost stipends and make other improvements to graduate education.

The fee, which would need approval by trustees as well as the state Board of Governors, comes as UF plans to raise tuition 15 percent for the fourth straight year. UF students representing a variety of groups announced Monday that they have formed the Gator Student Alliance and will march Thursday as part of statewide rallies protesting the tuition increases.

"This is something that affects all the students of the state of Florida," said Robbey Hayes of the Gainesville Area Students for a Democratic Society, one of the groups in the UF alliance.

The alliance plans a march to the trustees' meeting, where the new fee proposal is being considered by a committee Thursday and the full board Friday. The fee is intended to "enhance undergraduate education through enhanced course offerings, academic facilities and teaching staff," according to the board agenda.

UF Provost Joe Glover confirmed in an email that the fee would be used in part to increase graduate stipends. UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said additional details were unavailable but would be presented by Machen at the committee meeting.

Students in the alliance said their focus is tuition hikes, but rising fees also are a concern. In addition to the new fee, UF trustees will consider increasing existing fees that would be used in part to finance renovations to the Reitz Union.

Hayes questioned the use of the money. "It doesn't do anything to enhance our education," he said.

The alliance brings together more than 15 groups including organizations representing minority students and organizations dedicated to political causes. Merancia Noelsaint of Club Creole, a Haitian student group, said tuition hikes particularly affect minority students.

Noelsaint said she's the first person in her family to go to college and her Haitian-born parents couldn't afford UF's tuition without the state's Bright Futures scholarship. With tuition rising and the scholarship being cut, she's concerned that her two younger siblings may not be able to follow in her footsteps.

"By the time my siblings come to college, it's not going to be sufficient," she said.

In addition to UF, students on six other state university campuses are holding events this week to oppose rising tuition costs. While Florida public university tuition ranks among the lowest in the nation, state law allows tuition to rise up to 15 percent annually until rates reach the national average.

As the state has slashed funding for higher education, UF tuition has increased 15 percent for three straight years. Machen said at this month's Faculty Senate meeting that he intends to again seek the maximum increase in the coming year.

The alliance's formation comes as UF students have opposed increased costs in non-binding referendums for two consecutive years. More than 56 percent of students voted last year against a new fee to fund the expansion and renovation of the Reitz Union and more than 87 percent of students voted this semester to repeal the latest 15 percent tuition increase.

The alliance includes the Graduate Assistants United union, which represents graduate students teaching and conducting research. The union previously announced a campaign to call for the elimination of their student fees, which they equate to fees on their employment.

Union Chief Steward Jose Soto said the group hasn't yet taken a position on the use of a new fee to increase graduate stipends. The university administration is responsible for finding funding sources for such initiatives and is creating conflict with the fee proposal, he said.

"They're trying to divide us," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.

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