The Future of Penn State Tuition
Onward State recently sat down with University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) President Christian Ragland, Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG) President Mohamed Raouda, and Graduate Student Association (GSA) President Jon Lozano to discuss the University’s acceptance of the proposal to have students sit on the University Budget Committee. This step will allow Penn Staters to play a more active role in deciding how Penn State funds are should be spent.
Onward State: Could you please explain the process that led up to getting this proposal accepted?
Ragland: We were debriefing [after the last Board of Trustees Meeting] about what we wanted to do the next day. All of us decided that we needed to make a proposal as soon as possible to figure out how we can be a part of that budget process a lot earlier. Once they increase the tuition, the first thing that media sources do is question students about their reaction [to the tuition increase], and I’m tired of saying, ‘Yea, tuition went up, and that’s all I have.’
Raouda: For us to actually have a say in the budget process leading up to the time when the members of the board are going to be voting on [the budget], the only way for us to get any influence is to have those meetings before the Board of Trustees meet in the summer, which is what’s happening now with our first meeting in September.
Lozano: This is my eighth year at Penn State as a student, and [I think that] this is just amazing additional access at the beginning of this year for what could be budgeted. I’m just impressed that it went through as fast as it did.
Onward State: Why is student oversight necessary?
Ragland: I think of it like taxation without representation. If I’m going to pay, I want to see where my investment is going. Its up to us to make sure that we fully use this opportunity to take advantage of what we can do with this position.
Raouda: Right now, we don’t know where the money is being allocated, [so] there’s no way we can say which parts of the University we think need more funding. When students come and as you, ‘Why is tuition going up every year? Where’s the money going?’ and all you can say is, ‘It’s just the cost of everyday life increasing’ it doesn’t make a lot of sense, because there are cuts being made to the university, tuition is going up, and less tenured faculty are being hired. There’s got to be more to it. Hopefully, this access is going to give us a better understanding of how to advocate better for students.
Lozano: Personally, I’m hoping that this means that the administration is opening up to more student voice in decisions. Building upon that, the administration [will be able to] see that students can make informed, accurate decisions…on aspects all over the university.
Onward State: Why now?
Lozano: Why not?
Raouda: Because the administration sees the relationship that we three have together. They see that we have good friendships, we know each other, we trust each others decisions, we work together really well. I think the administration has been quick to pick up on that.
Ragland: I think this is the perfect time if there was a time, because we’re not the only university that’s having these tuition issues. I went to the Big Ten conference, and I [was talking to] the University of Illinois, and their tuition went up ten percent. This is not just a Penn State issue. We’re all graduating-
Lozano: No, we’re not.
Ragland: Well, Jon will still be here. But we’re (gesturing to Mohamed and himself) off to law school, so if we don’t get everything we want from this, we have to focus on transitioning to the right [next] leader[s].
Onward State: Who of the student body will sit on the Budget Committee?
Raouda: It’ll be us.
Lozano: And if one of us can’t make it, there will be an appointed person to replace us.
Ragland: If we do our jobs correctly, we could possibly open this up to more student leaders.
Lozano: I think this could go a long way to help solve some of the student apathy problem [towards tuition and student government], because it’s actually showing that student government advocacy is doing something for them.
Onward State: How was this idea received by the administration?
Raouda: Very well. The speed at which we got a response to our proposal, I think, shows that the administration had been considering it and there were many people within the administration that had wanted it to happen.
Lozano: I was shocked by how fast it all happened.
Ragland: A week later, I wanted to meet with Dr. Spanier about a couple of things, and [the proposal] was my last thing to mention to him, and he was just like, ‘Yeah. Okay’ and I was like, ‘Really?!’
Raouda: I hope that students will realize that they have a larger say now in the budget process, and they will bring to us concerns that we might not know about. If they can voice those concerns, we can go to these meetings and say, ‘Here are some things students have said, and we want to see something happen to help resolve these concerns– and if they can’t happen, why can’t they happen.’
Ragland, Raouda, and Lazano will be meeting with Penn State Administration to discuss the budget on September 29.