EMOTIONS ran high for students yesterday as they diplomatically voiced their opposition against the University of Guam's proposed tuition rate increase.
A public hearing organized by UOG President Robert Underwood and the Board of Regent's Budget, Finance, Investments and Audit Committee and the Student Affairs, Scholarship, Alumni Relations and Honorary Degree Committee was held yesterday at the School of Business and Public Administration Building.
Nearly 100 students filled the room to support one another as some took the opportunity to present their views and arguments before the board.
Proposed changes to the university's tuition rates include a 10 percent increase to resident undergraduate and graduate students beginning Spring 2012, with a 5 percent increase in Fall 2012, and another 5 percent again in Fall 2013.
The current resident undergraduate tuition rate per credit hour is $190. With the proposed 10 percent increase for Spring 2012, the new cost would amount to $209; by Fall 2012, $220; and in Fall 2013, $231.
For non-residents, the rates would decrease in Spring 2012 and then increase 5 percent in each of the next two academic years.
Since Fall 2009 to current, tuition for non-resident undergraduates cost $565. By implementing the new rates by Spring 2012, tuition would drop to $435, then increase to $457 by Fall 2012, and again to $480 by Fall 2013.
The tuition changes stem from a shortage in the amount the government appropriated for the university's budget for next fiscal year.
According to Vice President of Administration and Finance David O'Brien, UOG had requested a $29.9 million appropriation for FY2012 general operations. The Legislature, in turn, came up with Substitute Bill 145-31, which appropriates only $26.7 million. This leaves the university short $3.2 million.
In order to meet the budget cut, O'Brien said the university estimated $1.9 million to come from cost-reduction and energy-conservation measures. They also are contemplating salary cuts.
To fill in the remaining $1.3 million gap, UOG proposed the tuition increase. According to the UOG Proposal for Tuition Rate Changes and Economic Impact Statement, the increase in tuition is to also accommodate the growth in student enrollment.
“Revenue generated by the proposed tuition increase will benefit academic quality and support student learning,” the proposal and EIS stated.
Minutes before the public hearing, dozens of students rallied together with posters. Organized by FITE Club – Fellows for Inquiry Towards Enlightenment – the student activist group wanted to make clear that despite their struggles, they were willing to compromise.
“We hope to find solutions to mitigate our financial situation,” said FITE Club President Kenneth Gofigan Kuper. The 20-year-old senior majoring in Psychology insisted, “We're willing to compromise ... we're not necessarily here to say no to everything.”
The students then began their march, hoping to later echo their rhetoric during the public hearing.
“We are here to listen to your opinion ... we're not only asking for your understanding but your assistance,” said President Underwood to the students.
Earlier, Underwood stated that in order to avoid a tuition increase, the university needs to secure additional support from the government of Guam either through legislative appropriation or reprogramming by the government.
“I'm so glad that you're here today, in helping make the case and the university's case ... not only in your name, but in the name of educational opportunity for incoming students,” Underwood told the students.
Over a dozen students each voiced their concerns with passion and conviction.
“I'm not a math major, but I know we're short,” said 20-year-old student and junior Jesse Quenga. “And because we're short, that's why we're seeing that the $1.3 million is gonna come out of somewhere, but why does it have to come out of our pockets?”
Quenga, who is also president of the 60th Student Government Association, spoke matter-of-factly on behalf of all the students.
“We're just one demographic ... we're just one student who's probably a single parent, who's probably working three jobs, who's probably trying their best to prove to their parents ... that this is the best decision for now,” he said. “What they need to remember is that this is an investment – an investment that we're going to see later on in the future.”
Not only did the students highlight the reality of their economic or personal struggles, they also proposed suggestions and solutions in hopes to find compromise. Among those suggestions was the idea of utilizing e-books or making textbooks available online instead of purchasing expensive textbooks. Another suggestion was influencing a more sustainable culture at the campus, and finding more ways to be more efficient.
“If education is so vital, if education is such a staple to success, then allow us to absorb that success,” Kuper urged the board. “Provide us that opportunity to pave the road to success. ... Let us know that you are doing your part as well.”