Day of Action

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students gathered Thursday on campus to protest university spending and demanded a tuition freeze for all students.

Around 100 students congregated on Ernest Spaights Plaza, just outside of the Student Union building, at noon on a cold and cloudy Thursday.

The protesters then marched to Cunningham Hall, to the offices of Chancellor Michael R. Lovell. They then presented a list of demands to the Chancellor’s office asking for a change in University spending and tuition rates. Students also demanded that the government forgive all student loan debt immediately.

Some kids beat on drums. Others yelled out chants for all to hear, urging other students around campus to join in on the march.

Students for a Democratic Society and the Education Rights Coalition were the main groups putting on the march across campus. SDS member Jacob Flom was one of the leaders of the pack.

“Today is a national day of action,” Flom said. “All across the country students are standing up to unfair tuition increases. We’re standing up to our programs and teachers being cut. We’re standing up to debilitating student debt.”

Wisconsin saw some of the largest state university funding cuts in the country. State funding fell 21 percent from 1.46 billion to 1.15 billion in the last year, according to an independent study put on by Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Higher Education.

Tuition in public Wisconsin universities rose 5.5 percent according to the same study. This didn’t stand well with some of the students at the rally.

“We want a tuition freeze for all UWM students. Tuition has doubled in the past 10 years and has increased faster than the rate of inflation,” Flom said.

The same higher education study confirms that tuition in Wisconsin Universities has doubled in the past 10 years. In 2001, the average tuition in Wisconsin State Universities was $3,791. Tuition data from 2011 shows the average student paying $8,314 for college.

State funding at the university level has fallen over 52 billion dollars since 1980, a 46 percent decrease.

Student loan debt will exceed $1 trillion in 2012. The average U.S. student leaves college with $25,000 in debt, according to the Institute of College Access and Success.

“I work two jobs and go to school full time, and I feel like I’m drowning in debt and stress,” Jason Helm, a student at the protest, said.

The Education Rights Coalition is asking for a seat at the negotiation table during UWM budget meetings, to ensure that the voice of the students is heard.

“There are real decisions being made with a real impact on all of us students at these budget meetings. Students should be there to speak their minds,” Flom said.

It wasn’t just the youthful students making their voices heard on Thursday.  Don Counsel, 56, was one of the people at the protest not currently enrolled in college.

“I went to UWM back in the early 1980’s. I remember the stress of putting yourself through school then, and it’s magnified now,” Counsel said. “We have a governor who doesn’t value higher education and a bunch of university leaders who don’t have their heads on straight.”

The protest only lasted around 30 minutes. But according to Flom, the goals of the day for students were accomplished.

“We needed to get these demands out to the administration,” Flom said. “We’ll see what they do with it, and go from there. But we’re definitely ready to have more events like this if needed.”

According to the Students for a Democratic Society, another campus-wide protest is being planned for May 1st, AP International Workers Day.