Annual Tuition Hearing: Where Were the Students?

By Dan Falkenheim, Contributing Writer

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President Susan Cole heard all of the students' comments at the tuition hearings. Photo credit: Daniel Falkenheim
President Susan Cole heard all of the students’ comments at the tuition hearings.
Photo credit: Daniel Falkenheim

The Montclair State University Board of Trustees held their annual tuition hearing on Friday, but no more than five students appeared at the hearing. Only three students signed up to speak at the hearing in advance, which is a far cry from when dozens of members of the Montclair State Students for a Democratic Society showed up to protest tuition hikes at hearings in 2012.

The tuition hearing was held at 10 a.m. on April 15, and students were invited to speak in front of the Board of Trustees. Not much effort was made by the administration to make students aware of the event via social media. Faculty were not made separately aware of the tuition hearing and could not effectively notify their students of the hearing in advance. However, flyers were posted on campus and emails were sent to students to notify them.

“I’m disheartened that the university did not widely go out of its way to publicize and get students here to testify at the tuition hearing,” Dr. Richard Wolfson, the president of the Montclair State University Federation of Teachers, said at the hearing. “To not give the students the full story with respect to how a tuition rate is determined and encourage them to come and participate is simply to deny them the transparency they deserve.”

Jessica Garlewicz, a sophomore double major in English and illustration, echoed Wolfson’s sentiments when she spoke in front of the Board of Trustees. Garlewicz said, “Why not have a more convenient time for students to come? What I think it comes down to is that I don’t think we have great communication with [the administration]. As students, we don’t.”

Results are based on a survey that polled 30 students at random in the Student Center quad.
Results are based on a survey that polled 30 students at random in the Student Center quad.

Governor Chris Christie’s proposed operating budget for Montclair State will not be increased for Fiscal Year 2017, which is causing the university to consider raising tuition to provide funding. The Board of Trustees made a presentation that detailed the current lack of funding from the state government, as well as their priorities for Fiscal Year 2017. Currently, tuition and fees are $11,711 for an in-state student.

The Board of Trustees has not publicly signaled what percentage increase in tuition they are considering or whether they’ll keep tuition rates the same. However, the Board of Trustees has approved an average annual increase of 3.82 percent, or $374, for in-state tuition and fees since 2007.

At the same time, state funding for Montclair State has decreased since 2007. State money allocated to Montclair State has decreased by an average of $1,141,000 per year – a 28.63 percent decrease in state funding from 2007 to 2016. Dr. Susan Cole, the president of Montclair State, has called New Jersey’s proposed budget for Montclair State “irrational” and “under-funded” in past testimony to the New Jersey Assembly Budget Committee.

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Cole is one of two non-voting member on the Montclair State Board of Trustees, along with Christopher Clement – the one non-voting student representative. The New Jersey governor appoints 12 of the 13 voting members to six-year terms, and the student body elects one student to be a voting member, who currently is Anthony Fasano.

“The hearing serves as a way for the board to inform the Montclair State Community of the university’s current financial position and where the university compares against other public universities in New Jersey,” Fasano said in an email.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of Montclair State and has the power to establish tuition and fees, determine policies and spend money from state appropriations and tuition. All questions brought before the Board of Trustees are decided by a majority vote – meaning the one student voting member cannot single-handedly prevent an increase in tuition.

Richard Wolfson was the only faculty member to speak at the tuition hearings. Photo credit: Daniel Falkenheim
Richard Wolfson was the only faculty member to speak at the tuition hearings.
Photo credit: Daniel Falkenheim

Montclair State wants to increase funding for financial aid, invest in facilities and grow academic programs. The Board of Trustees will not vote on a potential tuition hike until their meeting on July 21.

“Students are absolutely justified to be concerned about the cost of education,” Cole said after the hearings. “There is no question that the cause of the rising tuitions and their concerns is disinvestment by government in support for public higher education. But, when you’re a student and you have to pay a tuition bill, it’s very hard to think about the big governmental issues or policy issues that are causing it.”

After the tuition hearings, Garlewicz raised concerns about how the tuition money is being used. “If [the tuition] is getting hiked up, I feel like [the administration] uses it more towards making ourselves beautiful to get more students in. I feel like we should really know where the money is going,” Garlewicz said.

In addition, Wolfson criticized the Board of Trustees for not presenting a cost-benefit analysis of a potential tuition raise. He said that members of the campus community trust the administration will not waste tuition money and went on to say, “At some point, I believe that trust will wear thin.”

“We greatly value the student input received,” Erika Bleiberg, a spokesperson for the university, said “[We] are taking it into account as we strive to balance the University’s commitment to offering a high quality educational experience with our desire to be among the most affordable and accessible options in New Jersey.”

Karen Cardell briefly spoke and reminisced about how the SGA used to be more active in the tuition process. Photo credit: Daniel Falkenheim
Karen Cardell briefly spoke and reminisced about how the SGA used to be more active in the tuition process.
Photo credit: Daniel Falkenheim

Karen Cardell, the president of the Student Government Association (SGA) from 1997 to 1998, briefly appeared at the hearings to speak as well.

“I can remember being on the student legislature when we actually used to have a large demonstration,” Cardell said. “We used to all work together and have these big meetings and even sit-ins with students getting together and talking together and even protesting tuition hikes.”

Rajhon White, the outgoing SGA president, arrived after the time for public comments ended and spoke about the SGA. White largely explained the positive things the SGA has done over the past year and ended by saying, “We are now asking the board to assist us as we try to help our students by maintaining the current cost of tuition or minimizing an increase in tuition costs.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 11 p.m. on April 21.

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