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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers students from New Jersey will have to pay an additional $318 in tutition and fees next year due to a 2.5% tuition hike unanimously approved by the Board of Governors last Wednesday.
Student demonstrators packed the boardroom and walked out in protest after the decision. Seven students spoke eloquently against the increase.
Natalie Sowinski, a rising senior at Rutgers, said she came to Rutgers because of its supposed affordability and strong reputation as a research University.
“Raising tuition at the level of inflation may seem like its pretty fair for the sake affordability for higher education, but the reality for people… is that the tuition is already unaffordable.”
The Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) and New Jersey United Students (NJUS) organized the demonstration, bringing about 50 students to the afternoon meeting.
They demanded a tuition freeze and argued that a tuition increase would not only be unnecessary, but detrimental to students’ finances.
Rising senior Kaitlin D’Agostino told board members that even the previous year’s 1.8% tuition increase had put her into a financial crisis that forced her to acquire cheap off-campus housing, and ultimately left her without money for food.
“I had nothing to eat, I barely had a place to live that was safe, nowhere to go, and no hope for my education because I had no time to study working as many hours of week as I did.”
She also relayed that she had told financial aid officers that at the time of her crisis she felt as though she was “making a decision between survival and school.”
The state legislature recently approved a ballot question that will ask voters to borrow $750 million to fund improvements to building facilities on the campuses of both public and private universities across the state.
If more people vote yes than no on the question in the November election, Rutgers will receive $300 million to improve its facilities.
The demonstrators support the passage of this referendum in hopes of partly alleviating the economic burdens on RU’s finances, and hoped it would avert another tuition increase.
Last year, over 600 students marched on then-President Richard McCormick’s office protesting a proposed 3.6% tuition hike. In a surprising move, the Board of Governors voted 7-2 to cut the proposed hike in half.
The 1.8% hike was the lowest increase in over 20 years at the University. Rutgers was awarded level funding from the state government each of the past two years.
The students argued that, if state funding was the same, tuition should remain the same.
Demonstrators outside the meeting chanted, “Keep Rutgers Public!” a popular rallying cry since the effective demonstrations last year.
The slogan is meant to draw a distinction between Rutgers and private colleges, whose price tags are rapidly becoming more and more comparable.
The crowd of students was prevented from entering the meeting until 1:30pm and forced to stay in the blistering heat. But they were prepared, with tents to provide shade and several water coolers.
Rutgers University Police forced them to take down the canopies within 20 minutes. As the demonstrators waited on the lawn, student leaders including RUSA president John Connelly and NJUS President Spencer Klein spoke before fired-up crowd.
After the seven students spoke against the hike, Board Chairman Ralph Izzo said, “If those seven students are any indication of the student body here… That was the most articulate presentation I have ever seen at a public meeting.”
Nevertheless, the board pushed forward with 2.5% tuition increase. They also voted to increase mandatory student feeds by 1.9%. According to nj.com, the average on-campus housing will cost $10,970 next year, a $206 increase.
In response to the unanimous passage of the increase, Rutgers rising senior Ellen Taraschi stood and shouted, “Shame!” as she and dozens of others walked out of the building in silence.
Outside, the students rallied once again. Affected students spoke to their friends and supporters and pledged that they would not give up the fight for affordable tuition.
As students faced Winants Hall, where the Board of Governors continued their meeting in closed session, and chanted, “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”
Editor’s Note: The author of this article was an organizer of the demonstration against the tuition hike.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.