A student-led protest held on Thursday was the latest in a string of initiatives calling for a tuition freeze.
Two of the protests — which were spearheaded by Students for a Democratic Society — have occurred in the past two weeks following a letter penned to ASU president Michael Crow stating that recent tuition hikes have been hurting the student body.
The letter, signed by ASU Young Democrats, Students for a Democratic Society and United Students against Sweatshops at ASU, also asked Crow to forgo any bonuses or raises in order to show solidarity with students.
“Recent tuition hikes have put a squeeze on the student body here at ASU, diminished access to education and prevented academic success,” part of the letter states. “In light of these hikes, we ask that an indefinite freeze is placed on tuition until a permanent solution can be decided upon with student input. As cost of living rises, especially on campus, increased tuition and new fees have hurt students, not helped them. As the president of an academic institution, you should keep the economic well-being of students in mind.”
In response to the letter, Crow said he understands the importance of affordability and also that his compensation — along with all ASU faculty — is indicative of the market.
“I know how important an issue college affordability is which is why we are continuing to work to provide students with the highest quality education at the lowest possible cost,” Crow said in an emailed response to the student groups. “My personal compensation, which is determined by the Arizona Board of Regents, is market-based as it is for all ASU faculty members.”
ASU media relations failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
Both protests involved a small crowd of students picketing around high-traffic campus areas such as the Memorial Union, Old Main and the Fulton Center.
SDS Chair Fallon Leyba said increasing tuition has become a prevalent concern, partially due to the University's business model.
“There’s been a lot of tension on campus surrounding this issue for a while — just in terms of tension around tuition hikes and also these fees that have started to become the norm,” she said. “What we’ve seen happen is that … ASU has become more focused on profits, or at least moving toward that model.”
The 2015-16 ASU tuition increase came shortly after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey approved a state budget that cut $99 million from public university funds.
Leyba said plans for more protests are in the works.
“We are going to continue along the path of raising awareness, so we’ll be doing similar picket-style (protests),” she said. “At this point, they are going to be weekly so we’ll do one next Thursday as well, but that one’s still in the works so we may push back the date again.”
Leyba also said she was informed that graduate student tuition will be increasing next year.
“At the picket yesterday, a graduate student approached us and told us graduate student rates are also going up next year,” she said.
Although the protests have had turnouts of around a dozen students each, Leyba said the initial protests are being done to emphasize visibility for the time being.
USAS at ASU President Felina Rodriguez shared the same sentiment and said the relatively small turnouts of recent protests were due to the nature of how grassroots initiatives gain traction.
“One aspect of grassroots organizing is you start with an initial letter drop and then based on the responses you continue to grow,” she said. “In addition to that, actions are a great way of gathering attention to issues around campus.”
Rodriguez said she acknowledges that tuition freezes aren’t promises,and such notion calls for vigilant student activism on tuition rates.
“Yes, it’s true they have honored the 2014-15 tuition (freeze), but just because they honored it one time for one year, that doesn’t mean they’ll continuously honor it,” she said. “Yes, ASU’s tuition is significantly lower, but … there’s all our excess fees that aren’t fully explained as to where they go, and what they’re used for or why they’re necessary.”
Rodriguez said she felt as if Crow’s response was a way of saying his hands were tied on the issue.
ASU Young Democrats President Zakary Ghali said the recent tuition hikes are indicative of a bigger policy issue that can be traced to state legislation.
“For us, we see it as a political thing,” he said. “The state legislature is already coming out with bad bills for students and we fully expect that when the appropriations and budget come out, that it is just going to be worse and there’s going to be less funding for ASU students who have to pay more.”
Ghali said the disparity of costs between in-state and out-of-state tuition calls for student action.
“We definitely think (a tuition freeze) would help because there is a big disparity between what students pay,” he said. “International students pay a huge sum compared to in-state (students).”
In light of Crow’s response, Ghali said he’s confident work can be done between Crow and student groups to further ensure college affordability.
“Dr. Crow was very gracious in his response. He let us know about the behind the scenes stuff he was working with,” he said. “The Young Democrats emailed him back and said we appreciate his response and we look forward to working with him … during the legislative session here to make sure that we continue to advocate for good funding for ASU and make sure the students can have affordable tuition.”