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UC Student Regent: Why I say ‘no’ to the tuition plan

Sadia Saifuddin, social-welfare major, former UC student regent | November 25, 2014

My mentors always advised me that I should pursue whatever issues kept me up at night. The night before the UC Regents’ recent vote on a proposed tuition increase, I thought long and hard about what I would say at the Regents’ meeting. Here is my statement concerning the tuition hikes:

During my sophomore year at UC Berkeley, I received quite possibly the most terrifying e-mail that a college student whose family heavily relied on financial aid to fund their daughter’s college education, could get. The e-mail said that because my family made over $80,000, we were not eligible for any aid that year. That year, we made about $87,000, and my father was a small business owner with a family of five children, a wife, and an elderly mother to support.

Because my parents and I are strongly against the blood-sucking monster that is student-loan debt, we decided that we would try to gather what little resources we had that year and try to make it on our own. My father told me it would be up to me to shoulder the cost of attending school, so I called in whatever scholarships I had, took on four jobs working more than 25 hours a week, and resigned from any and all extra-curricular activities that were taking away time from increasing my work hours.

Between working as an instructional-services assistant, an exhibit monitor, and a tutor, I wasn’t making enough to cover my rent, let alone make a dent in my tuition. The effect this had on me was obvious: my grades plummeted, as basic survival became more of a priority than getting A’s. I ran from class to work, back to class, and back to work. I didn’t see any friends, and only barely saw my family. I suffered from depression, as this burden weighed so heavily on me that some days the weight of my sheets was too much for me to get out of bed in the morning.

But none of that mattered, because I was still not paying the bills and the money had to come from somewhere. So I applied for a job as the Chief of Staff to the Student Regent-designate. I had no idea who or what the Student Regent even was or what they did. All I was thinking was that maybe being the Chief of Staff would allow me to make some extra dollars to cover my bills.

Two years later, I sit before you today as the Student Regent herself because amongst all of this political posturing, rhetoric, and drama, I think you need to understand what the real-time effect of a tuition increase is on students. Six-hundred dollars may not seem like a lot, but that’s almost an entire month’s rent for some students, who are barely making it as it is. I was one of those students. I sit here today because I want to prevent exactly what happened to me, and what is happening to hundreds of thousands of students all over the UC.

I’m under no false pretenses about the power of my singular vote. But I believe that the role of the Student Regent is not just to represent the student voice. It’s also to challenge every single one of us to do better. To be better.

Governor Brown, you have said on multiple occasions that you wanted to fund the UC but your hands are tied by the legislature. Yet when the legislature passed $50 million dollars for the UC, you line-item vetoed it, yet advocated for a rainy-day fund for the state of California at the same time.

I know that the relationship that the State and UC has is fraught with tension and inconsistencies. We can all do better. Yet, as the leader of our state, the ball is in your court. I urge you to get past the politics and invest in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students across the UC.

Two years ago, Proposition 30 was on the ballot for consideration, and it was the student vote that got it to pass. We were told that this was a savior for education, yet we received the tiniest fraction of the revenues — barely enough to keep rate with inflation, yet not enough to continue maintaining our quality and continuing to enroll more California students.

The UC cannot do its job without the state’s support and funding. Higher education must be a priority if we want to build a socially and economically vibrant California. The amount of money that the State has reduced from our budget over the last 20 years has crippled the system, and now the UC is forced into a position that, frankly, none of us want to be in.

It is easy to point fingers at each other and say that the other person isn’t doing their job, or is spending too much, or isn’t spending at all. But we are all adults here, and we need to do what is best for our community and our state. We need to work together to create a plan that restores state support for the UC and ensures cost saving measures at the same time.

We need a plan that mutually and effectively engages the State, the Regents, and most importantly, the students. We need a plan that supports the middle class, so that more students do not fall into depression and work their tails off just to pay the rent. UC Berkeley and UC Davis are leading the way, but we need all of the campuses to commit to this. We need to be more strategic about when and how we set administrative pay. We need increased funding from the state to do our job, and we need a collaborative, long-term sustainable plan. Lastly, as Regents, we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility and become complacent just because we have a five-year plan.

I’m voting “No” today because students should not be the ones paying the price for state and administrative economic mismanagement, and we should definitely not be the ones that are held hostage every time budget negotiations start. I’m voting “No” today with the invitation to the state to work closely with the UC to do everything it can so we can fund our students. I’m hoping you will join me in this endeavor.