Students across the world are fighting for their right to higher education. In London, students began rioting after Parliament passed a bill that tripled college tuition to an average of about $15,000.
Several thousand students and supporters at the University of Puerto Rico began protesting in December against a Special Fiscal Stabilization Fee that would have added at least $800 to the cost of their education.
Here in Washington, students are pushing to protect themselves from a shrinking budget, higher tuition rates, and a lack of representation. According to David Sassman, an officer at the Office of Student Legislative Affairs, community colleges are looking at having a tuition increase of 10% for the next school year and another 10% for the following year.
Currently, there are two bills in the Washington State Legislature that are being pushed. House Bill 1568 and Senate Bill 5217 have been deemed the “student trustee bill.” If passed they would add a student representative for community and technical college to the boards of trustees.
This would create a sixth board position for each college district.
On Thursday, January 24, over 30 members of the Bellevue College community joined approximately 500 students, faculty, and staff from other community and technical colleges. The rally was at the Legislature Building in Olympia, Washington to support efforts to get the student trustee bills passed.
As students poured into the main lobby, the stairways became filled with bodies. The demonstrators filled the first floor, the second floor balconies, and their presence was seen all the way up to the third floor. Hundreds of signs emphasizing the importance of higher education bobbed up and down as they chanted for more classes.
Chants were led by student leaders and synchronized with a taiko drumming group that had setup next to the speaking area.
The students were joined by various administrators and district representatives such as Rodney Tom.
Robert Rowe, the Associated Student Government Chief Justice, was one of the key speakers who stood before the large gathering of students and faculty to represent the 38,000 that attend Bellevue College. During his speech, he outlined that many students are fighting to stay afloat in this economy and many are struggling to pay for food and housing.
Rowe outlines the importance of community and technical colleges as well as their wide variety of programs during a tough economy. At one point in his life, he was laid off because his employer was unable to continue to pay him. So he began attending our college two years ago as a night student and is part of the Worker Retraining Program.
“A person with an Associate’s degree will make 25% more income than a person with a high school diploma,” Rowe pointed out. A person with a BA will make 107% more. A Masters and a Doctorate will respectively make, on average, 208% and 370% more than a person with a high school diploma alone.
Rowe and other speakers all had a similar message. Education is the key to freedom and crucial to the success of students today and those to come.
As student debt surpasses credit card debt, many students leave schools to take on low-wage occupations to keep themselves afloat. If tuition is raised without providing relief for students somewhere else, enrollment would likely shrink.
A decrease in enrollment would likely nullify an increase in tuition.