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SOU students: 'Raise Hell, not tuition'

Southern Oregon University students rallied Thursday afternoon against potential tuition hikes for next year of up to 13.5%.

The students are lobbying for legislation to divert 10% of unanticipated state revenue to the state’s seven public universities to dampen the tuition increase, said Student Director of Governmental Affairs Johanna Pardo.

The unanticipated revenue — which totals $1.4 billion — is slated to be returned to taxpayers in the form of “the kicker.” If the Legislature diverted 10% to the universities, that would be enough to keep SOU’s tuition close to flat next year, Pardo said.

She said SOU is facing a tuition increase of 8.5% to 13.5% next year. Many students already can’t afford SOU’s in-state base tuition and fees of $9,654 for fall, winter and spring terms, which doesn’t include books and living expenses.

Pardo, who works two jobs on top of attending school full time, said many students would have to drop out if the tuition hikes are enacted.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, and Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, will meet with students at a town hall meeting scheduled for noon, Saturday, June 8, in the Stevenson Union courtyard.

The Thursday rally featured 10 speakers ranging from professors to student government leaders.

Signs floated through the Stevenson Union courtyard, painted with phrases such as “Raise Hell, not tuition” and “Eat the rich.”

Andy Peacock, a member of student government who spoke in their capacity as officer of the Queer Student Union, said people who identify as queer are disproportionately affected by tuition hikes because they are often disconnected from their families.

“I have four jobs,” Peacock said. “I know students who work two to three jobs and donate their plasma just to be able to register for the next term. I know students living out of their cars. Students make choices every day between eating and going to school.”

Peacock, a Portland native, said going to college outside of Oregon isn’t a great option because out-of-state tuition is significantly higher than in-state tuition, plus the cost of relocating.

“This is the cheapest education I can afford right now, and it’s still too expensive,” they said. “In our society we’re requiring more higher education to get jobs, but there’s no funding, so students are paying substantially for it, and it creates a cycle of poverty.”

Jocksana Corona, vice president of the Latino Student Union, said she’s a “Dreamer,” and the only reason she can afford to attend SOU is because of a scholarship.

“There aren’t many Dreamers at SOU,” Corona said. “If tuition is raised that much, I can tell you there will be zero Dreamers on this campus.”

Corona said despite spending her life living between California and Oregon, she does not qualify for financial aid or in-state tuition.

“This is my home; this is my state,” Corona said. “But I am only here because of a scholarship.”

Elected student body president for next year, Britney Sharp said that, according to her math, if the tuition is increased to the full extent it would add $1,100 to SOU tuition for the spring, summer and fall terms.

“Earning a degree should be about someone’s leadership, their hard work and their perseverance, not if they can dig more money out of their wallets,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter how stable one can be. It’s too much for anyone.”

Sharp, who is majoring in criminal justice, said she has been offered an internship with the U.S. State Department. She said she’s an example of the investment the state of Oregon needs to make — helping students attain the required certification to acquire jobs in the local economy.

“I know from my studies that people with an education typically don’t go through the criminal justice system,” Sharp said. “Investing in this invests in other areas too.”

Alma Rosa Alvarez, chair of SOU’s English Department, said in the 22 years she’s been at SOU she’s watched the program diminish from 15 members to five due to budgetary constraints.

“Why are our legislators so out of touch and not thinking about the rising costs students are facing?” Alvarez asked. “I see young people leaving this campus with $70,000 in debt. They have to work a full-time job and a part-time job just to make ends meet. That’s no future.”

SOU is the second-largest employer in Ashland behind the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pardo said before introducing associate professor and City Councilor Dennis Slattery.

“I see this impact on the city,” Slattery said. “Less students equals less money in the local economy, less students means less education, less students puts SOU at risk.”

Slattery said the state is hurting itself with short-term thinking that results in long-term impact.

Pardo said the Legislature is discussing higher education budgets this week and must decide the budget by July.

Willow Parker, student government director of gender equity, said the state used to pay for about two-thirds of tuition, but that burden has shifted to students, who now pay roughly two-thirds. She said Oregon is one of the most expensive states for higher education.

“I want to be clear that we’re not here protesting against SOU administration,” Parker said. “We’re asking for more money from state legislation.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings The back of a post card that students signed and will be mailed to Oregon Legislators during a protest of funding higher education at SOU Thursday.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Students sign the back of a post card that will be mailed to Oregon Legislators during a protest of funding higher education at SOU Thursday.