Zach Wilson, left, and Kris Lassiter study a student-initiated petition against raising tuition at ECU. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
Students sign petition asking ECU to reconsider tuition increase
By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
East Carolina student Jonathan Yelverton approached people walking on the campus mall one Friday afternoon in December with paper and a plea.
“Do you have time to sign a petition?” he asked each passer-by. “It’s against raising tuition.”
Most added their names to the growing list and many expressed their support for his cause. However, few knew before Yelverton stopped them that tuition is under review.
The ECU Board of Trustees voted Dec. 2 to recommend a 9.5 percent increase in tuition and fees for undergraduate students and 9.9 percent for all other students. If approved by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the change would take effect for the 2012-13 academic year.
Yelverton discovered the proposed increase Dec. 6 when he saw the front page of ECU’s student newspaper, The East Carolinian. Since then, he has collected a few hundred signatures in hopes the Board of Governors will oppose the recommendation.
“Almost 10 percent? I almost pulled my hair out,” Yelverton said. “Students are graduating into a weak economy. We just can’t afford an increase.”
He is also encouraging students to write letters to the board, which he believes will have a greater impact.
Attempts to include students in the process of setting tuition and fees for the coming academic year included two forums and the direct involvement of a handful of students on the Campus Based Tuition and Fee Committee, according to Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for administration and finance.
Student Government Association President Josh Martinkovic, who also sits on the ECU Board of Trustees, estimated 70 people attended a forum on the subject and he took their comments to the board. Many are on financial aid, he said, and are either working or looking for work to help pay for school.
“If you ask students if they’re in favor of a tuition increase, the majority are going to say no.”
Martinkovic voted for the increase, which passed 7-5.
“I’m not necessarily happy with the fact we had to do…a tuition increase,” he said, “but I know the reasoning why and I feel like we made the right decision. We do more with less. We’re hitting our breaking point right now.”
ECU lost $49 million in recurring state funds, or 16.1 percent of its state budget this fiscal year, eliminating 180 sections of courses and approximately 200 positions. This is the fourth consecutive year of cuts to funding.
Tuition paid by students must rise to maintain the quality of an ECU education, Niswander said. The cost is not changing, but the state is paying less so someone must pay more. Even with the proposed increase, the university remains $30 million short of funding at prior appropriation levels, he added.
“The general student body? Most of them have no idea about this,” said Justin Brown, a senior who helped coordinate the petition effort.
As a result, suggestions for alternative ways to address costs no longer subsidized by the state are rare. Yelverton sees the shortfall as an issue trickling down from mismanagement and witholding of federal funds to state funds to the university system and, finally, to ECU.
Brown said in tight times money should go to the academic basics and not amenities. He pointed to the recreational beach, opened this summer at the North Recreational Complex on U.S. 264, as something unnecessary for a college education. Funding for that project came out of student fees approved for recreation.
Anice Smith, a sophomore signing the petition, suggested administrators look at faculty pay for potential savings. She, too, was unaware of the tuition debate before Friday.
Yelverton said he will continue educating his peers about the proposed increase and ask they support his protest until the UNC Board of Governors takes it up for debate.
“I’ll be out here again,” he said. “I think this is something a lot of people are passionate about.”
Jonathan Yelverton encourages students to sign a petition protesting recommended tuition increases Friday outside the Sonic Plaza. Yelverton is a junior and a history education major who organized the petition drive.