Sunday, November 29, 2009

California Sticks it to the Kids

Last week, the University of California Board of Regents voted to increase student tuition by 32 percent to help close the system’s $535 million budget gap. The ensuing publicity surrounding the protests and demonstrations have been some of the most heated since the Vietnam War. As a current student of a private university in Southern California whose epic tuition continues to skyrocket each year, I initially approached the recent change in circumstances of the school to our west with cynicism and doubt. I still find it unfortunate that for those students who do not qualify for Cal Grants and financial aid, or those who do not have enough money to cover the new increases, that this money will come directly from the savings and loans of students and their families.

But as an unaffected party, I must selfishly admit: I’m kind of glad this is happening.

During one of the now infamous “sit-in” demonstrations, perhaps the demonized administrative officials should begin by encouraging indignant students to simply pick up a newspaper. Newspapers which show the overcrowding of state prisons, the ever-depleting credit ratings of California bonds, dangerous pension liabilities for state employees, and that special gift that will be passed on to California’s Generation Y: terrifying levels of state debt. The 32% tuition hike at UC campuses is just a preview of what’s to come in the next 40 years for those of us born after 1980.

So perhaps this will be the wake up call we politically active Gen Y’ers have been waiting for. About one in four eligible California voters under the age of thirty voted in the 2006 midterm elections. In 2010, another midterm election year, we’ll be electing a new Governor, Senator, and a host of statewide legislators. There has never been a more crucial time for UC students to make their voices heard.

The tuition hike will drive out many working class families from being able to afford the quality public education that was promised to California. This is a serious problem for current and future students from working and middle class backgrounds. But in the grand scheme of public decisions on who is to carry the state’s debt, this was probably Plan Z.

Some advice to my fellow sufferers of student debt: protests get you nowhere. Civilized civic participation – in large numbers – is the only way the state will take you seriously. Outbursts get you tasered; it’s votes that get your money back. The 26th Amendment was designed for just this purpose – allowing college-aged students to vote their way out of Vietnam. In November 2010, prove to the state that you’re worthy of your already underpriced education and your right to vote at age 18. Tell the state to pick on someone its own size; leave them kids alone.

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