As the semester comes to a close, many students remain agitated at the remaining high cost of their education after months of remote and online learning. While much of FSU’s student body returned to Tallahassee, many opted to stay home, balancing work and family obligations along with learning in an environment with significantly less educational resources — during a pandemic of course.
Florida State’s own chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America has worked tirelessly this semester on a campaign for a partial tuition reimbursement. Spire Magazine spoke with several of the organization’s leaders about their efforts, including both co-chairs and at large member Sarah Adams.
“Our tuition reimbursement campaign was a response to FSU’s extremely underwhelming response to the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Jared Libby, a Co-Chair of YDSA. “On top of refusing to shut down campus, they’ve managed to justify full tuition and fee charges for what amount to mostly online classes. It’s disingenuous, greedy, and wrong. FSU students deserve to get what they pay for at the bare minimum.”
Tensions around this issue are especially high as Florida State’s Board of Trustees is set to approve a $350,000 performance bonus for University President John Thrasher who will soon be retiring. Thrasher’s total compensation for last year, 2019, was $767,014.
Shelby Shoup, YDSA Co-Chair, talked to Spire about why the campaign was launched. “We began organizing for tuition reimbursement as part of the national YDSA College For All initiative to expand quality, access and democracy in higher education. “
The campaign began with a petition receiving over 400 signatures and has continued throughout the semester with social media blasts, and the publishing of articles such as this. Currently, YDSA is working to organize no-contact canvasses both on campus and out in the surrounding community in addition to pushing the Student Senate to pass COVID relief legislation.
COVID relief from universities could be especially impactful for college students, especially those who are financially independent, but may have still been claimed on their parents’ taxes as a dependent — disqualifying them from the first and only round of stimulus checks earlier this year.
“Students have been left behind in this pandemic. We were largely excluded from the first round of stimulus checks and many of us are suffering mentally, physically, and economically from the stress of online classes and working low-wage, COVID-unsafe jobs,” Shoup told Spire. “Other schools like Princeton, Georgetown, and Williams have reduced tuition by 10% or 15% in light of the pandemic. We believe that it is morally right and fiscally feasible for FSU to do the same to provide much-needed relief to students during this public health and economic crisis.”
The YDSA campaign at FSU has four essential demands.
- A 10% tuition reimbursement
- A 20% fees reimbursement
- Waiving of all special fees including fines and penalties for the Fall 2020 semester
- The reimbursement must not come at the expense of worker pay or campus services.
For sources of funding, YDSA recommends using the remaining $4.5 million in FSU CARES funds, $700 million endowment fund, a reduction of the FSUPD budget and/or a cut to the salaries of top administrators.
“The neoliberal university model has turned education into a commodity and students into consumers. Without taking this model as unproblematic, it’s worth asking — why are we paying the same amount of tuition and fees for reduced quality education and limited access to campus services and spaces?” said Shoup. “Every single one of my classmates and friends on campus has complained about the quality of their education the past two semesters. We recognize that instructors are being put in an impossible situation, but we don’t have sympathy for our university administrators who are taking advantage of us. In the past few months, the FSU administration has shown that they only care about students insofar as our presence on campus and payment of tuition hels the university meet its bottom line.”
As the fall semester comes to an end, most students are still looking at a majority online or remote semester for the upcoming spring. YDSA hopes to continue its work and reach more of the student body. Interestingly enough, this may be a cause FSU students across the political spectrum can unite behind. The petition circulated asked for students to describe their political leanings and received signatures all the way from socialists to liberals to staunch conservatives.
One of Shoup’s simple statements to us summed up exactly what the organization hopes students can unite behind.
“Our education matters more than their profits. We believe that tuition and fees reimbursement is necessary to assert our dignity and right to both quality education and COVID relief as working class students.”