Students, organize the free tuition party
submitted by Michael R. Mosher
April 14, 2008 —
First, I want to compliment students on a political action Fall semester. The 9/24/07 Vanguard wrote how the Student Association of Michigan planned to bring a thousand people to the Michigan capital in Lansing to protest education cuts in the state budget. The SVSU Student Association sponsored a bus going to the rally. Your participation should mark the start of greater student activism in your own economic interest.
This is an era when single-issue politics can be successful: Initiatives to restrict women's abortion access or gay couples' legal rights, the eradication of affirmative action programs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I would like to see a massive, nationwide student-led campaign for free tuition at public universities. Organize a free tuition party, choose candidates and get on ballots!
In a 2004 article in the Nation magazine, Adolf Reed Jr. of the Campaign for Free Higher Education (www.freehighered.org) claimed that all that was needed to pay the tuition of anyone attending a public university would be an additional $30 to $60 billion. This was, at the time, the cost of several months of the military occupation that followed our "War in Iraq to Keep from Pursuing Osama." That sum could also be obtained by reinstituting the estate tax cut by President Bush in 2001.
This February there was legislation to reduce tuition for returning veterans. Yet after World War II, the GI Bill of Rights gave military veterans free tuition at any public or private college, plus a stipend for living expenses. Reed noted that this returned about $7 to the economy in productivity and in taxes for every $1 spent on a veteran's higher education. A generation ago the California State University system, and the multiple campuses of the City University of New York, were nearly free to all qualified students.
Don't protest against SVSU though, for we're on your side. Your professors wish you didn't have to work a job while attending college.
Many, if not most of you, are working too hard for money to attend SVSU and to live on. This costs you in the classroom. One overworked night-shift student nods out in my afternoon Art 433 class like an octogenarian after a big lunch. You need and deserve more time to spend on your studies and projects, for (gasp!) additional reading, and for your own pleasures beyond that.
In presentations to faculty and staff, President Gilbertson has shown a graph of the shrinking proportion of government's portion that pays for the cost of an SVSU education. When your professors were in college, there were many more grants to students for higher education. Now there are loans, and some students graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Michigan no longer has the manufacturing and agricultural base to absorb you as it did your parents, to allow high school graduates to make a good living, buy a home, raise a family, and be solid citizens. You're doing the right thing by attending a four-year college; the national and state governments should be helping you much more than they are to do that.
So go party - start a political party to influence legislators, learn in action how the political system works, make deals and feel your power, to make education free in one of the richest nations on earth.
Students, you should organize and make your voice heard, as you did last September in Lansing. I'll bet most of the U.S. public would like to live in a society where public investment in the next generation is a high priority. Start up this bandwagon, and see how many people jump on.
Michael R. Mosher
Associate Professor of Art and Communication