Occupy USF Group Marches to Protest Tuition Hikes

Protestors march toward USF administrative offices
TAMPA (2011-11-9) -

A group of about 50 students calling themselves "Occupy USF" marched on the Administration offices Wednesday. Their beef? A series of proposed tuition increases. University officials met the marchers with open arms.

SOUND: Whose campus? Our campus! Whose state? Our state! Whose future? Our future!

Marchers at the usually sedate Tampa campus are protesting a recent 15 percent increase in tuition for undergraduates. It's just the first of many tuition hikes proposed for the next few years.

Dustin Ponder is with the USF Chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, which helped organize the event.

"All of higher education is going to turn into this elite factory, where only the wealthiest students can go," says Ponder. "And students like us? We'll have to work the rest of our lives paying off those student loans - if we can graduate, period."

Not all the students were sold on the march. Aaron Detrich, a graduate student in anthropology, debated the issue with USF alumnus Kent Scholl.

"The biggest problem in our economy is there is no demand. There's no money. So how do you fix that? Get rid of their debts. How about get them jobs? Getting them jobs so the system can grow and prosper. How do you do that when our corporations... this is a fact - private companies are sitting on more capital than at any time in our history. Why are they sitting on it and not passing it on to you? Because the federal government has made it very difficult for anyone in this country to make a profit."

Scholl was walking to a job placement service on campus when he came across the demonstration. He says there's a deeper reason for the tution hikes.

"Overall, it's because just about anybody can get a college loan nowadays," says Scholl. "And the truth is that's leading to an increase in demand for college education, because more people are applying. And unfortunately, the end result is colleges are having to raise tuition rates to basically keep the numbers that they need."

SOUND: Hey hey, hi ho, tuition hikes have got to go...

Occupy USF walked past scores of bewildered students who had no idea what was going on.

When they got to the administrative offices, university officials welcomed them to a conference room. Smith and the other officials were then greeted by a list of demands.

"We've marched, we've occupied this administration building because we have been shut out of the education process which we paid for - and which this university exists..."

Then Ponder from Students for a Democratic Society relayed his concerns.

"I know our state legislature thinks they can get away with this and that students won't do anything, that students won't fight back, and that we'll just put it on students and we can make more money," he says. "We need y'all to step up."

Dwayne Smith, USF's senior vice provost, says state budget cuts are to blame.

"If you look at 2007, the state subsidy to your tution - you don't pay anywhere near the true cost of your tuition - the state subsidy was about 75 percent in 2007, it's 59 percent this semester," he told the students. "So we have definitely seen a decrease in state funding, we have seen an increase in tuition that's being imposed on students. It's a nationwide trend."

He says they're doing what they can to soften the financial blow for most students. That wasn't enough for Ponder.

"We're tired of not even having a say. This last round of tutition hikes were passed during the summer, when we didn't have any students on campus to say anything," says Ponder. "It almost appears to us - if I may speak so plainly - that this was passed behind our back and tried to be sweeped under the rug, because they didn't think students would know about it - didn't think students would stand up. We just want to let you know we're going to be here to stay."

USF officials say as long as Florida ranks 45th of the states for undergraduate tuition, students can expect more tuition hikes in the future.

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