Correction appended: The University of Michigan Engineering Council was incorrectly identified as the University of Michigan Endometriosis Center.

Times are tough in Michigan. As students, many of us have not considered the implications of the economy and public policy on our education. But critical decisions are now being made that will affect each of us.

Some policymakers and University administrators are working tirelessly to invest in higher education and provide immediate relief for those of us affected by the economic crisis. Others argue it’s necessary to raise tuition now, so research can stimulate the economy in the future.

We need to be a part of the decision-making process right now, as it happens.

Critics of immediate student financial aid, arguing that the University cannot possibly maintain research levels and freeze tuition, fail to recognize the dire need for investment in human capital at this moment. Keeping a Michigan education affordable is critical to the state’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. By pricing out intelligent, qualified, interested individuals, University policy-makers and administrators will lose talented minds — those the University intends to benefit through its research programs. Our graduates already pour out of the state after graduation. Will we now hinder them from even attending? Greater access to higher education should be a paramount concern for the University and the state. After all, what is top-notch research without the best young researchers?

That is why we are calling for a tuition freeze at the University if state appropriations for higher education remain constant. We do so in full recognition of the challenge this creates for all parties: state government, University administrators, Regents and students. But we also do this in solidarity with other schools and students across the state — many of whom have already pledged support.

While we understand a tuition freeze for the 2009 fiscal year doesn’t fix the system and appears shortsighted, it will have an immediate short-term impact. A tuition freeze will allow continued access to higher education for current and potential University students, many of whom are pinned under the economic climate. According to a University News Service publication, the state’s higher-education allocations as a percentage of the University’s general fund have plummeted from 78 to 23 percent since 1960, with a concurrent tuition increase from 20 to 64 percent.

Our coalition, informally called “Stop the Hike,” includes an uncommon assortment of individuals from a variety of organizations. The students referenced in Patrick O’Mahen’s column (Schooling Jennifer Granholm, 02/15/2009) responded with enthusiasm and dedication to Stop the Hike’s efforts. Others have joined in the weeks since. But we have not gained enough members to accomplish our goals. We need more student leaders, organizations, faculty and staff to lend their support for this united cause.

We have begun by making sure this matters to you. First, we formulated a survey (http://www.tinyurl.com/stopthehike) to gauge where students stand on financial aid issues — it’s generated over 600 responses to date. At the same time, we have proposed and are currently proposing resolutions in the Michigan Student Assembly, LSA Student Government, Residence Halls Association, Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Association, Multicultural Greek Council, Rackham, University of Michigan Engineering Council and Ross Student Government Association. For these initiatives, you can participate by taking and forwarding the survey, joining our Facebook group, Stop the Hike, or attending a meeting for the above student organizations. Let your peers know that tuition affordability is something you value.

We can no longer afford to wait.

We will meet this Thursday at 8:00 p.m. in the Crofoot room of the Union to discuss our next steps. We encourage you to join us in thinking strategically about what solutions we can bring to the complex dialogue ahead, especially as we consider how to address our administrators and policymakers.

Many have already spoken out: You want to continue your education at the University but are facing the difficult decision about whether graduate school — or even next semester — is financially feasible. Even if you struggle to relate to this, chances are you know someone who does relate. And at a time when many describe the economic situation nationwide as the worst in 80 years and when Michigan’s economy is among the worst in the country — with a January unemployment rate of 11.6 percent, compared to a national average 7.6 percent — this state cannot afford to price out prospective students.

So take the survey, contact us (stopthehike@umich.edu) and make your voice heard. We need to let our community know it is not okay to burden students with unreasonable tuition costs, and we need to help ensure that access to the University and all it has to offer will be sustained through the worst economic time of our lives.

Timothy Bekkers, Aria Everts, Ashwin Lalendran, Bhavik Lathia, Adam London, Ari Parritz, Fiona Ruddy, Alex Serwer, Ken Srdjak, Robert Stapleton and Neil Tambe are members of Stop the Hike.

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