Despite the recent increase in student activism, it is unlikely tuition costs will decrease as a direct result of student protests.
Student body president Kyle Straub said this is not because the student voice is not being heard, but because there are several factors that go into setting tuition.
“It’s not at all the intent of administrators to raise costs and put pressure on students,” he said.
He said tuition costs go to pay for infrastructure, technology and employee salaries and cutting tuition would mean fewer services and improvements for IU.
In-state freshmen who enrolled at IU in fall 2012 pay $313 more per semester for 12 to 17 credit hours than in-state freshmen who enrolled in fall 2010, according to the student fees summary released by the Office of the Bursar this year. Out-of-state freshmen enrolled in fall 2012 pay $1,707 more than those who enrolled in fall 2010.
However, Straub said the cost of tuition for IU is low in comparison to other Big Ten schools.
He said although he does not think student protests will have a direct effect on decreasing tuition, protests have a certain value in spreading awareness of an issue.
“I think, in general, it helps administrators quantify the need,” Straub said. “They’re constantly assessing cost versus benefits, and if they know that lots of students are really gripped with this unbearable cost, that’s going to likely encourage them to take more meaningful action.”
Elizabeth Himeles, the campus organizer for INPIRG, said in an email that she feels student activism does make a difference.
“When policies relating to the cost of higher education are proposed, we can tell our elected officials how we think they should vote, through petitions, media coverage, and lobbying,” Himeles said. “As their constituents, our opinion matters to them.”
She cited INPIRG’s ongoing Affordable Higher Education campaign as one example. Last summer the campaign focused on preventing a bill that would double the student loans interest rate nationally.
“There was a representative in Indiana who wasn’t sure how he would vote on the bill,” she said. “We collected petitions from IU students asking him to vote the right way, and it made a difference.”
Straub said protesters are spreading awareness of the problems of high tuition, but protests may not have much value beyond that.
“The sheer volume of voices provides value,” he said. “There’s a difference between promoting awareness and proposing solutions, and the solutions I’ve seen are insufficient. They’re unrealistic.”
Straub said he also thinks state representatives are feeling the pressure to meet student concerns, but they have to balance those concerns with the concerns of other groups as well, such as the welfare community.
“The real policy that’s going to affect a change in student tuition is at a state level,” Straub said.
One proposed policy at the state level is the “tax-free textbooks” bill, HB 1435.
According to the IU Student Association website, IU’s student government has partnered with Hoosier Youth Advocacy to lobby this initiative to the state government.
If passed, this bill will allow students to file a grant claim with the Department of State Revenue and receive a refund for sales tax paid on textbooks.
The text of the bill states the average full-time student pays about $76 in textbook sales tax, but this refund would be capped at $35 per student. The bill is currently in committee at the Indiana General Assembly.
Himeles said INPIRG is also trying to lower the cost of textbooks this year as part of their Affordable Higher Education campaign.
“Generations of students are graduating in deeper and deeper debt, and the cost of textbooks on top of tuition doesn’t help,” she said. “We want to build a faculty-student coalition to discuss the best possible cheaper textbook options — our favorite being Open Textbooks, although we are looking into IU’s eTexts program as well — and get 50 professors to sign on this semester to using cheaper textbooks. Eventually, we would like to see the whole campus dedicated to using cheaper textbooks.”
Straub said the focus of IUSA and the IU administration is thinking of alternative ways to help students save money while paying for higher education.
“I completely see both sides to this situation. As a student, it can be very frustrating to see the ever-increasing cost of tuition,” Straub said. “I think students forget that the University provides a specific function. It operates like a business.”
Himeles said she has heard from both faculty and students who are frustrated with the situation.
“Many people want change,” Himeles said. “It’s just a matter of developing a plan to move forward.”