A group of three students plan to present the Chancellor or her office with a petition with 101 student signatures, asking for her to be an ally in their fight to stop the increasing cost of tuition on campus.
“We, the students of UMass Lowell, strongly believe that the repeated increase of tuition needs to stop. We amassed 101 signatures in under two hours to show our growing unrest. We hope to make an ally to assist in the freeze of rising tuition,” said a note written below the signatures. The signatures were written on a long scroll of parchment and will be presented with a formal letter from the students.
Students Dan Blandini, Mayreni Mercedes and Zachary Lieberman worked on this petition for their Social Problems course, a 1000 level sociology course that Dr. Thomas Piñeros-Shields says he has run for the last few years with the help of Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), a group he says works on issues affecting students within Massachusetts state universities, community colleges and the UMass system.
“We are looking mainly to make an ally for someone who can stand up to us,” said Blandini, a senior psychology major. “We think sending this into the statehouse probably wouldn’t get us anywhere significant, but if we have someone more powerful speak up to the statehouse rather than have a group of students talk to them, it might be different.”
Dr. Piñeros-Shields said he and the group discussed who controls the cost of tuition, the statehouse and legislators, and the students came up with the idea of approaching the chancellor as an ally in talking to those people.
“The goal of the project is to devolve ways to address social problems,” said Piñeros-Shields. He said he wants his students to start to think about social problems as more than just their causes and impacts. He said he wants them to think about the solutions as well. In sociology, they look at the action as not only what is done on the induvial level, said Piñeros-Shields, but what structural changes can be made culturally or structurally.
The group tabled with their petition on South Campus. Blandini said the reception from students was overall positive and that they heard from a lot of students saying things like, “I don’t want to be in debt,” and “I am already poor as it is.”
In the 16 years between 2001 and 2017, funding and education have received a 14 percent cut, said Blandini. Blandini says this is a significant factor in tuition costs because that is the cost to keep the school running.
“So, when the government doesn’t fund the school, then the school needs to charge more,” said Blandini. If they do not raise tuition, says Blandini, then the school needs to lay off professors or underpay them, or get a lot of adjunct faculty instead of full-time faculty.
Lieberman, a senior psychology major, said that there are economic benefits to be considered when looking at tuition rates. College graduates, he says, pay roughly $132,000 more in taxes and cost $66,000 less in public expenditure in comparison to high school graduates, but those with large amounts of debt are less likely to become job creators.
“Not only is it morally right to improve the lives of students who suffer because of paralyzing levels of debt,” said Lieberman, “but it’s also important to the fiscal strength and dependability of the commonwealth.”
“This is an exciting project because it brings home the idea that social problems are not somewhere else. They affect each student,” said Piñeros-Shields. His class was split into eight groups on topics relating to the mission of PHENOM. “I wanted them to think about issues that had border implications beyond just the campus.
The class groups worked with PHENOM’s Organizing Director Sydney Little to work on projects addressing issues such as sexual assault on campus, food insecurity on campus, student debt, college completion and access to college, among others. Blandini said other students working on this project tabled to raise awareness, and one group held a movie night about their project.
For students interested in learning more about tuition costs, Blandini said he recommended looking at two acts PHENOM has been advocating for.
“One is called the cherish act and the other is the debt-free future act,” said Blandini. “The cherish act is a reparative solution, so it’s working back to the beginning trying to catch us back up. The other is a preventive solution, which is working to the future to make sure it’s better. It’s a long-term goal.”
Correction: The original version of this report erroneously reported that the petition had been presented to the Chancellor with the petition on Friday October 25, 2019. This was incorrect. The petition has not as of yet been presented to the office. The Connector prides itself on the accuracy and veracity of its reporting and we apologize for any inconvenience our erroneous original report may have caused.