This letter is a response to the letter to the editor in the Daily Trojan on March 29 voicing the common misconception that students protesting tuition hikes “can’t have their cake and eat it too.” That letter to the editor presents a false dichotomy. Unfortunately, student, worker and teacher services do not directly correlate to tuition. When we pay tuition on our e-bills, the money does not go directly to salaries or amenities — it goes through a bureaucratic system before moving on to the Board of Trustees and other governing bodies that decide how to budget USC’s wealth.
Consequently, USC can freely spend on projects it chooses to value, such as football, a new University Village, high administrative salaries and lawsuits. USC has entire teams of people dedicated to fundraising and receives millions in donations every year; according to the Council for Aid to Education, USC has maintained its status in the nation’s top three universities for fundraising totals for several years, raising over $653 million in 2015 and $732 million in 2014. This is why providing services and lowering tuition are not directly at odds with each other. Demanding basic services for students and workers from a wealthy, prestigious institution is not outrageous or surprising; it’s expected.
The question is not whether USC has the money — it’s what it chooses to value and to spend money on. Rather than a Sprinkles Cupcakes in the new UV, USC could choose to reallocate some funds towards diversity initiatives and workers’ salaries. Rather than a top-heavy administration with astronomical salaries, USC could choose to alleviate tuition or at least freeze it for the time being. Other schools, like Stanford, have just as many scholarships and resources as USC, fund diversity initiatives, pay their workers a living wage and still have lower tuition than us. We’re not asking for free college by tomorrow. We’re asking for a tuition freeze until issues of transparency and accountability can be resolved. This is the only way we will know if USC is in fact spending money on services that are important to students. Many claim that the cost of attendance is rising in order to meet student demands, but they have no more guarantee or affirmation than we do that USC is in fact spending our money on reforms advocated for by students. If that were the case, USC would have no reason to be so vague about its finances. If there is a good reason for a tuition hike, students should be consulted about such a decision, and USC should have the courtesy to explain the increase to all students.
Moreover, the Campus Climate Resolution specifically stipulated that the $100 million fund would not raise tuition but would only come from fundraising or donations: “The University of Southern California will earmark donations from its $6 billion endowment goal to provide for the measures listed above and no moneys will be diverted away from current student resources and initiatives for underrepresented populations (i.e. cultural centers), BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the University of Southern California will implement the measures listed above, contingent on the necessary funds being supplied without raising student tuition or through the application of additional student fees.”
Apart from the fact that USC has yet to deliver on the demands of the Campus Climate Resolution, we shouldn’t have to pay more than we already do for a campus free from discrimination, sexual assault and exploitation of workers. Lower tuition and access are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, one cannot state that the tuition hike is an economic necessity, especially considering the fact that our tuition has been rising at a rate much higher than inflation (the cumulative inflation rate from 2012 to 2015 was 3.9 percent while undergraduate tuition at USC rose 11.6 percent over the same period), and that an increase of $2,000 per student will bring in only about $86 million per year (a generous estimate) — which represents only 2 percent of the estimated $4.2 billion university budget for 2015. So with a tuition hike that is an insignificant blip in the University’s overall funding, but has disastrous effects on the lives of students and their families, USC is deliberately making the choice to reduce access to education.
The issues of college affordability and campus climate are interrelated; it is important now more than ever to advocate for both. Affordable education and a safe, inclusive campus are not trivial baked goods that might be nice to have as a treat; they are fundamental rights that affect people’s lives every day. Students shouldn’t have to choose between them.
Junior, College Affordability Coalition core member
Freshman, College Affordability Coalition core member