Armed with fluorescent signs, whistles and makeshift bucket drums, a group of students from the University of the District of Columbia gathered Tuesday night for a sleep-in to publicly protest a drastic tuition increase they say would greatly limit accessibility to the city’s only public college.
The proposal, made by UDC President Allen Sessoms, would take effect in the fall and raise tuition from the current average of $3,770 a year to $7,000 for District residents. It would also end the school’s open-door policy that allows anyone to enroll.
“We believe that education is fundamental for everyone,” said UDC senior Joshua Lopez. “And it should remain affordable and accessible for anyone who seeks a quality education in D.C. We feel these proposals really threaten that and threaten the purpose and mission of UDC.”
Lopez, along with fellow senior William Kellibrew, has been the driving force behind Operation Save UDC – the student group that has organized rallies and this week’s sleep-in. They also encouraged students to boycott class Wednesday to attend a meeting with a committee of the Board of Trustees, where a preliminary vote was made on Sessoms’ proposal. Nearly 1,000 students attended and many voiced opposition to the program, Lopez said.
University officials say a tuition increase is needed for the progression of the school to a more competitive level.
“It’s being proposed in order for us to move the institution forward,” said Jackie Boynton, UDC’s associate vice president for marketing, communications and alumni affairs. “The only way the institution can show results is by giving the administration the opportunity to make changes.”
Among the changes Boynton cited are building repairs, investing in new technology and expanding faculty for the school’s nearly 6,000 students.
“We understand that students who pay for higher education have high expectations,” Boynton said. “In order to meet their demands, we need to be up to par.”
Sessoms’ proposal includes creating a community college with open admissions while raising the admissions standards for the separate four-year university and eliminating its open-door policy.
“UDC plays an important role in D.C. with its open admissions policy,” Lopez said. “It gives a lot of people the opportunity to get their foot in the door in terms of having access to a university education. And creating another barrier financially is the wrong way to go about this. If anything, it would decrease the student population.”
Freshman Marxus Fowler echoed Lopez’s sentiment.
“People are going to transfer or leave and UDC is going to drop off the map,” he said.
Boynton said the university understands students’ concerns and is trying its best to communicate the financial process so students know their options in terms of loans and scholarships.
But the administration also wants students to recognize the need for a tuition increase, she said.
“We are making an investment in students and we are asking students to be on board in making that investment with us,” Boynton said. “There is no room for complacency in higher education. You have to move forward and be competitive and that’s what we have to do, is be competitive.”