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Students can voice tuition hike opinions on SG ballot

Increased tuition costs this semester brought uncertainty for Dustin Ponder’s future.

Ponder, a junior majoring in English, started his college education at the University of Florida in Gainesville. After his father died, he was forced to quit school and work for a few years until he could afford the costs of university tuition again, he said.

Because all 11 Florida public universities increased tuition by 15 percent this school year, Ponder said he and others like him may no longer be able to afford to continue with higher education.

To ensure that he and others can still go to school, Ponder and other members of the student organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) turned in more than 1,200 signatures Thursday to USF’s Student Government (SG) to allow a student opinion poll on tuition hikes to be included on the Oct. 4 SG election ballot. This will allow SDS to address legislators with statistics showing student opinions.

“We’re the people that make this University run because, frankly, we’re the ones who pay for everything. We should have a say in how our resources are spent,” Ponder said. “We should be able to say whether we want to spend $35 million on (the) luxury (SkyPad gaming lounge) or whether we want to have affordable tuition.”

In April, all Florida universities were approved for an 8 percent tuition base increase for the 2011-12 school year by the Florida Board of Governors, and later were approved for an additional 7 percent tuition differential increase. The $304 per-semester tuition increase for undergraduate students and $408 per-semester increase for graduate students were designed to raise $14 million in revenue for the USF System, whose total losses after state cuts still amount to $25.3 million, The Oracle reported in June.

The day the ballot is voted on, SDS plans to rally 300 students from various student organizations to march from Cooper Hall to the Patel Center to ask to meet with USF President Judy Genshaft.

Ponder said members hope Genshaft is open to speaking with students about the tuition increases.

“They passed these tuition hikes over the summer and (few) students were on campus to be consulted for alternatives,” he said. “This is something that’s being put on the backs of students – nobody else is making that sacrifice. We feel like it’s important for the student body to have a voice and build a student movement so we can kind of have a say in how our University is run.”

Student Body President Matt Diaz said the referendum will be useful.

“I think the referendum is good,” he said. “I don’t even have to see the referendum, and I can probably tell you that most students are going to vote that they don’t want the 15 percent increase, but to have that survey data would be nice.”

Diaz, a member of the Board of Trustees who voted to increase tuition by 15 percent following the precedent of other Florida universities, said this school year’s raised tuition rates were necessary.

“To be honest, it would put our University and students at a disadvantage if such a large cut was made for our University and then we didn’t raise tuition,” he said. “You would have seen services that would have shut down, programs shut down, professors not be here. There would have been … really bad things going on for our University if that budget hole wasn’t filled.”

Ponder said he hopes the SG referendum leaves an impact.

“A lot of us won’t be able to go to school anymore with these tuition hikes,” he said. “We want to show people students are angry.”