College students on more than 100 campuses nationwide plan walkouts, rallies and other actions Thursday to protest budget cuts, layoffs and tuition increases, which they say erode quality of education and limit access.
Students in at least 32 states are expected to join the grass-roots campaign. It has been bubbling up since demonstrations last fall in California, where students, faculty and unions protested plans for a 32 percent tuition increase amid the state’s fiscal crisis.
"Students saw that there was an opportunity to do something in their own states because the budget cuts didn’t happen just in California," says Monique Teal of the United States Student Association, which represents student governments.
University of California regents increased fees as planned. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed that at least 10% of annual state spending go to the UC and California State University systems.
Most of today’s efforts focus on public education, where enrollments are growing most rapidly and tuition has risen fastest. But some private schools, including the University of Chicago and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., are protesting issues such as campus spending decisions and low pay for campus workers.
"The biggest thread that ties these protests together is the current financial crisis in higher education," says Angus Johnston, who teaches history at City University of New York and tracks protests on his blog, student activism.net.
"We’re seeing more classes taught by adjuncts and grad students who aren’t getting paid (fairly). We’re seeing larger class sizes, and some kids in certain majors … can’t get all the courses they need in four years," says Maryland junior Jon Berger.
California State University chancellor Charles Reed says federal stimulus money kept the effect of budget cuts on his 23-campus system to a minimum. But "students are paying more and getting less, and they have every right to be outraged about that."