University students are joining a nationwide effort to raise awareness about declining state funding to public universities and resultant problems such as higher tuition, fewer full-time faculty members and lower pay for staff members.
The goal of the still-unnamed organization, which is composed of more than 100 public schools from across the country, is to halt the corporatization of higher education.
According to the College Board – a nonprofit organization that provides students with information about colleges – tuition rates at four-year public universities have increased by 10.5 percent since last year – for an average price tag of $5,132 per year.
Additionally, the Government Accountability Office raised concerns in July that the process of applying for college aid money is so complicated that it discourages some families from even trying to send their children to school.
Graduate student Dave Dobbe, an organizer of the initiative, said the organization hopes to “reverse the trend of a lack of state commitment to higher education.”
Because of reductions in state funding, universities have been forced to make cuts. For example, Dobbe said that universities are hiring fewer tenured professors, which leads to larger class sizes.
He added that some college faculty are receiving pay raises that are so small, they barely keep up with the rate of inflation.
At the University, state budget cuts have led to larger class sizes, fewer classes, a reduction in library operating hours and delays in academic projects.
Dobbe said the corporatization of education is driving the cost of college up so high that policies like affirmative action won’t do any good in their aim to increase access to higher education.
Dobbe said his aim is to develop a cohesive group that will eventually lobby the state and federal government to improve higher education policies.
Brian Lutenegger, another organizer of the initiative, said he is distressed by the loss of faculty at state schools – a problem that organizers of the initiative hope to remedy.
He attributed this trend to budgetary cuts universities are forced to make, which lead to larger class sizes, a turn-off for many prospective students.
Lutenegger said “dialogue is the first step” in building a movement to address the problems facing universities.
He said he hopes that in time, words will be followed by action.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the hub of the movement, is organizing a conference on the weekend of Oct. 21 that will feature panels and workshops.
Students, faculty and staff members from universities across the country have been invited, and Lutenegger said he hopes the communities that surround universities will also get involved.
The idea, Lutenegger said, “is to talk about issues and to work toward a solution” to a problem that many young Americans face: the staggering financial hurdles that stand in the way of a college education.