Updated 8 a.m. Thursday: California State University trustees Wednesday voted 9-6 to increase tuition 9 percent, which comes to roughly $500 a year.
Students and faculty at Sonoma State University are "occupying" Stevenson Lawn to protest skyrocketing tutition and deep budget cuts, which have slashed faculty and course offerings, and, organizers say, lengthened graduation times.
Yet unlike student Occupy Protesters – who have taken to the streets at , and yes, even Harvard – the Sonoma State student demands are concrete: they want access to a quality education.
Part of a series of unified protests throughout the California State University (CSU) system and “A Week of Action at SSU,” the students intend to s and raise awareness for their plight for a quality state education.
The CSU Board of Trustees OK'd Wednesday the latest series of budget cuts — increasing student tuition by 9 percent a year, or an additional $498. Studetns and teachers also protested imposing a 16-unit cap on student course units starting in Spring 2012 and canceling "University 238," an elective leadership class currently required for peer mentors and residential advisors.
The class is “imperative to the culture of our campus community,” said Kia Kolderup-Lane, 21, a senior political science major.
Rising tuition is another concern for Kolderup-Lane, who is involved with Students for a Quality Education and helped to organize today’s campout. At Sonoma State, tuition has already jumped to nearly $3,500 per semester for full-time students, up from about $1,800 per semester in 2000, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission.
“It’s important that we raise awareness [to the tuition hikes] because students really are upset about: They’ve become regularity and that’s not ok,” she said.
But like hundreds of California schools, Sonoma State is at the mercy of deep state budget cuts, and the passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extensions, campuses, and cut about $2.5 million at Sonoma State. Brown and the legislature have already approved a $500 million cut to the CSU, including a $7 million cut to Sonoma State.
“The reality is this is a matter at the legislature level — we only have so much money to offer for so many classes and we’re trying to make sure there’s enough equity for students to register for the classes they need,” Provost Andrew Rogerson told Patch, while in transit to meet with the student protestors.
Spurred by student demands, administrators have increased the course cap from 16-units to 18-units, Rogerson announced to a group of students last night.
But even with the higher registration cap, Marissa Brogden, 20, a junior sociology major, worries about graduating on time.
“Most classes are four-units, and even to get the 18-units you have to go through the add drop list: you have to be on a waitlist for a class and then you have to go class to class and maybe then you can get 18 units,” she said.
“With the cap, and everything that’s happening, some of us won’t be able to graduate in four years. Financial aid only covers four years, so we don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.
The students camped out to show solidarity today from 9 a.m. until 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.
One student, sophomore Michael Cottle, said throughout the day, he appreciated the student-teacher conversation about how to make things better.
“I really like that the teachers are involved with the students regarding their education,” Cottle said. “It affects the teachers, which affects the students, which affects the school, which affects the teachers. It goes in a circle.”
To keep “transparency” Rogerson is scheduled to meet with the students today, in an open forum from noon to 1 p.m.
Rogerson said he feels for the student plight, and he hopes that the camp out will help bring awareness to the CSU budget crisis.
“Anything we can do to catch the attention of the legislature is a positive: The California State University system is facing another round of cuts if the [legislature] trigger gets pulled – the students have the voice that can change that,” he said.
Editor's note: The most recent CSU budget identifies $535.6 million in needed revenue, and according to trustees, $202 million will come from student enrollment fees and the tuition increase.
-Kendall Fedor contributed to this report.