Students petition to keep tuition low

After Marquette announced a tuition increase of $1,390 for the 2013-14 academic year last week, many students are not happy.

Tyler Martell, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, is particularly upset about the new increase. So upset, in fact, that he decided to create a petition on Change.org, protesting the new increase and calling on the university to instate a “grandfather” clause that would guarantee a flat rate of tuition for current students and only raise prices on incoming Marquette students.

“With uncertainty in the economy, uncertainty of what graduates will do after their time at Marquette and uncertainty about what the future will hold, Marquette students deserve certainty in the cost of their education,” the petition reads.

Martell, who said he is paying for his university tuition on his own, created the petition last Wednesday night. As of Monday night, the petition has 310 signatures. Martell hopes to gain the support of at least 500 petitioners.

“A lot of students secure loans for what they think the price of tuition should be,” Martell said. “Those loans (may not) increase over time, so it just becomes more difficult. … I’m barely making it by as it is, and it’s just really disconcerting to see that it’s becoming more and more difficult to stay here.”

Terrence Morris, a sophomore in the College of Communication, is also concerned with the state of his finances. Like Martell, Morris said he is struggling to meet the cost of this year’s tuition and believes there should be a fixed rate so that students can better prepare their finances on a year-to-year basis.

Last semester, Morris began fundraising online at GoFundMe.com in the hope of accumulating funds for this year’s tuition. Like Martell, Morris has a job on campus and is on scholarship at Marquette.

Though Morris said he appreciates the financial aid he has, the funds aren’t enough to cover his tuition, and he finds himself constantly worrying about how he is going to make up the difference.

“Someone could probably be in my situation and not have had the blessings that I have,” Morris said, “and (have) just prayed and prayed and were not able to come up with the money.”

Advocates of a fixed tuition rate point to its use in several prominent universities, such as George Washington University, St. John’s University and Kansas University. Others point to the fact that tuition has been rising faster than the rate of inflation.

The average rate of inflation in the U.S. in 2012 was 1.7 percent for all items, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparatively, Marquette’s tuition will increase by 4.25 percent for the 2013-2014 year. In 2011 and 2012, tuition increased by 4.5 percent.

Vice President of Finance John Lamb said the university already tried this fixed-tuition tactic during the early 1990s, but it was unsuccessful. Lamb said this strategy puts a large financial burden on incoming students.

“We did make a pact with the students at that time that if they came in at a (set) tuition rate, over the next three years, their tuition would never exceed the cost of inflation,” Lamb said in a Jan. 23 interview. “But then we had to hit the freshman with huge increases – like 14 or 15 percent.”

Lamb said the university has tried numerous maneuvers to keep tuition low – from charging different prices for different programs to implementing a fixed tuition to giving discounts for families with multiple children at Marquette. But when it came down to it, Lamb said, the current system for distributing tuition worked the most smoothly.

“We probably have tried every possible iteration of tuition increases,” Lamb said.

Martell said he knows it is unlikely the administration will change its financial scheme in the short term. The goal of the petition, he said, is to give students a voice to the administration.

“At least they know we’re not happy about it,” Martell said.

Senior Director of University Communication Brian Dorrington said the university  is committed to involving students in the fiscal planning process through their recommendations and through student representation on the University Financial Planning Committee.

“Fr. Pilarz is receiving emails from the online petition that was recently started about the tuition announcement,” Dorrington said in an email. “He and the university are committed to engaging our students and being transparent in our decision and welcome their thoughtful insight. A college education is one of the most significant investments our students and families make. We understand that such an investment requires sacrifices for many families, and we value students’ input and suggestion in the process.”

Martell said he is frustrated not only with the tuition hikes but also with the administration’s lack of transparency about the breakdown of the tuition receipt. He said the university isn’t clearly communicating with students about tuition costs.

“I don’t need to know where every nickel is going,” Martell said. “But just the general gist of my $34,000.”

More than 60 people have commented on the petition, providing the university with arguments against raising tuition. Gisel Romero, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, commented that the university should cut the costs of some student privileges to keep the tuition low.

“The struggle to get through college is hard enough,” Romero wrote in a comment. “Why make us pay more? I would rather lose the perks at Marquette and receive a good education than pay more for things that don’t matter.”

Martell said he will continue to raise the adequate funds for tuition, but he hopes the university will rethink its financial platform.

“Marquette already has my heart,” Martell said. “I shouldn’t have to sell my kidney to stay here.”

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