Tuition Hearings: We All Need to Meet Half Way

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Illustration by Melisa Valovera
Illustration by Melisa Valovera

Students at Montclair State University love to express their opinions about the injustices they see in the campus community, but this Friday saw low turnout to one of the most high profile opportunities for students to express their views on perhaps the most important aspect of university life: the annual tuition hearing.

Every year, the Board of Trustees, the governing body that votes on all major issues of concern for the university, invites students to one of their monthly meetings to discuss tuition. Over the years, the event has seen various levels of student turnout — in 2012, several students from the organization Students for a Democratic Society attended the hearing in protest — but this year, only five students showed up and, of the handful who did, not everyone spoke.

Part of the problem with this low turnout is the lack of student engagement from which Montclair State continually suffers. Students simply don’t check their emails or stay up to date on campus issues or don’t care enough about the infrastructure of the university to do more than tweet at @MontclairProblems. After listening to what the student body has to say about the tuition hearing, though, it’s clear that the low numbers at tuition hearings cannot simply be written off as lack of student involvement.

The results of our survey (printed on the front page) showed that many students at Montclair State didn’t even know that the tuition hearing was happening, or what exactly the hearing was.

Additionally, students often said that they could not attend the hearing because it was held at a bad time for them. Many students specifically design their schedules so that they do not have class on Fridays so that they can either work that day or spend the day commuting home for the weekend if they live on campus. Those who are on campus early on Fridays are typically not hanging around, but busy in class or at work.

For most, attending a meeting on a Friday morning is not convenient, especially since the hearings are usually only advertised a few days before they happen, and many students plan their daily schedules weeks in advance, not allowing much time to squeeze in unexpected meetings.

However, that’s only relevant for the students who actually know about the meeting. Seventy-three percent of students surveyed said that they felt the hearing was not sufficiently advertised before it occurred.

Students are not only missing tuition hearings because they don’t care. Students are not attending tuition hearings because they don’t know about them — they don’t know what they are, when they occur or that they even exist.

While this isn’t entirely the university’s fault, there are definitely things that the administration could be doing to make tuition hearings more prominent in the student population. The university sent out several campus-wide emails, but none of these really explained in detail what a tuition hearing is or how it works. The university may be assuming that students already know this information, but our survey shows that this is clearly not the case.

More proactive campaigns by the administration or campus organizations that don’t focus solely on the fact that the tuition hearings are happening, but that truly encourage students to attend and explain why it is important to make their voice heard would definitely compel many students to set aside the time to attend these hearings. At this point in time, no campaign of that kind exists, which is likely contributing to why no one is showing up.

Consider, for example, how the university has taken on the task of the conversion to NEST. The entire week before registration, individuals were set up around campus advertising the switch to NEST in Ask Me booths and answering questions. Students who went to Webster Hall to gain help with registration were even rewarded with snacks. Why can’t a similar campaign exist for the tuition hearing?

Additionally, the time when tuition hearings is held is inconvenient for a great deal of the student body. This may be due to a set meeting time for board meetings, but moving the tuition hearing to a more convenient time, like common hour, may make these meetings significantly easier for students to attend.

Alternatively, the student members of the Board of Trustees could meet with students in the weeks leading up to the hearing, acting as a liaison and listening to the opinions of students who can’t make the Friday morning hearing. These individuals could then use their interviews with students to form a general statement to present to the Board of Trustees that represents the interests of many students, not just a few.

Students should be more involved in what goes on behind the scenes at Montclair State and take more interest in events like tuition hearings, but the university has to do their fair share as well. Holding tuition hearings at times which are inconvenient for students and not advertising the event beyond sending out a few emails or hanging up flyers is not going to lead to a campus community of aware and engaged citizens — one of the major goals that Montclair State argues that a higher education should provide.

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