When University of New Mexico (UNM) senior student Ava Yelton was alerted about the 2.6 percent tuition increase for the 2020-2021 academic year, she immediately took action.
By ABQ Live Staff writer Nichole Harwood | Photo and video by Kori Kobayashi
Yelton launched a petition on June 30, pleading that hybrid and remote learning does not provide the same productivity level that in-person classes offer. She argued many students do not have access to technology and additional resources needed for this transition. With student resources at an all-time low, Yelton’s petition asks for tuition to be lowered to help students with the transition.
“The overall message generally is that it is unethical to charge students more, let alone the same price during a global pandemic,” Yelton said. “People are so unsure of their current situations, and it’s just not right that they would have to put their education on hold because our representatives refuse to help us.”
At the time of this article, Yelton’s petition has received an overwhelming amount of support, gathering 5,453 signatures edging closer to her goal of 7,000.
Following her petition release, the university branch for Students for Socialism launched its first protest on August 13. Their Facebook Event echoed Yelton’s words, adding that, with courses being taught online instead of in-person, students will be paying more for an inferior experience.
The call for students to come together did not go unanswered. Several students arrived at the first protest brandishing signs that echoed the outrage in Yelton’s petition. At the event, students gathered at the 7,000 square-foot University House of UNM President Garnett S. Stokes. They took turns letting each other speak as they held signs asking for lowered tuition rates.
Many students exclaimed that they had to drop out of the semester due to the tuition increase siting unemployment as a high factor in their decision to halt their education. While many current and former students voiced their outrage others pleaded with attendees to focus on coming together peacefully to confront the tuition increase.
One former UNM student and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation Sol Dean pleaded with students to relate with each other as they stand together to protest. In addition, he asked students to seek to understand people who disagree with them.
“I think that it is important that we understand that if we are not essential to our country that we need to be essential to each other,” Dean said.
In addition to highlighting the current concerns with having the 2020-2021 year’s tuition increase, the Students for Socialism argued that tuition increases have been ongoing even before COVID-19. They stated that from 2008 to 2018, the average tuition at four-year public colleges has continuously increased in all 50 states.
Yelton said the goal of those who stand with her is to get tuition lowered for students for the current academic semester. Long term, Yelton said she hopes that students can see a change in how the education system handles higher education establishing fair and affordable tuition prices for students by standing together.
We believe that education is a human right,” Yelton said.
Future protests are currently being scheduled, and Yelton said she feels she owes it to her fellow students to continue standing with them since she started the initiative.
“I want my fellow students to know that they are heard, and they are not alone in their struggle,” Yelton said. “Their voices do matter. I’m just a single person that started a petition, and it has come this far. When students care enough to voice their opinion about something, it can start change, and that’s something students should remember, that they do have a say even if it feels like they don’t.”