Thursday, April 25

Tabatha Lewis: Funding for student advocates should come from UC, not from students themselves

(Jae Sue/Daily Bruin)

(Jae Sue/Daily Bruin)

This post was updated Aug. 15 at 4:44 p.m.

Some things you can buy with $100,000 include a Tesla, a condo or a speedboat – but not the four years at UCLA you invest in hopes of better career prospects.

The cost of in-state tuition at UCLA has increased by about $2,000 since 2010. This year however, for the first time since 1999, the cost of UCLA tuition decreased following various advocacy efforts by organizations such as the University of California Student Association.

UCSA is a statewide student advocacy group that aims to improve the UC and lower its cost of attendance. It organized the Fund the UC campaign, which strives to secure funding from state taxes for the UC to make higher education more affordable. UCSA’s members frequently go to Sacramento to lobby and testify at state Assembly budget committee meetings in order to get funding for the UC which could lead to decreases in tuition costs.

UCSA advocates are working hard to fund the UC, but their advocacy is funded by students, not by the University. Traveling back and forth to lobby in Sacramento is an expensive feat, both timewise and moneywise, and UCSA is funded via student fees, not by the UC Office of the President. The University should support campaigns like UCSA’s Fund the UC campaign instead of only caring about campaigns and advocacy efforts that support its own needs. After all, the work UCSA is doing is not only beneficial to students – it also helps the UC.

Caroline Siegel-Singh, the incoming UCSA president and a rising third-year political science and public policy student at University of California, San Diego, said there’s been a trend of divestment from the UC and California State University systems by the state of California. She added UCSA has been trying to stem that practice.

California has been forcing its public universities to operate with more students each year, while giving them less money to do so. In order to sustain itself, the University has had to raise tuition several times, as well as increase the amount of private funding it uses. This puts an additional financial burden on students, and leads to the further privatization of education, both of which any public university should strive to avoid.

Students lobbying to address this problem have had to travel often, and that takes a lot of money. During a July 18 UC Regents meeting, Siegel-Singh asked for reimbursement for travel expenses for UCSA’s lobbying efforts in Sacramento, as the travel expenses were paid by UCSA. Siegel-Singh herself went to Sacramento almost every week from February to June.

But that money shouldn’t come out of student’s pockets. UCSA shouldn’t just have to rely on student dues to pay for its lobbying efforts, but should instead be receiving funding from the UC to continue sending students to Sacramento for lobbying efforts on behalf of the University.

“There should be joint collaboration – there should be joint resources,” said Siegel-Singh.

The UC should collaborate with UCSA to help with its efforts to stop tuition increases and work toward decreasing it. It is mutually beneficial for the UC to work with an organization that already has an established lobbying arm.

Siegel-Singh added that, at times, students have outnumbered state staff members during budget committee meetings.

While the UC system maintains an advocacy network called the UC Advocacy Network, that organization often fails to take action. UCAN disseminates information on topics of importance to students, alumni or anyone interested in the UC, such as increasing state funding, increasing funding for research, and protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients. The aim of UCAN is to get students, alumni and anyone interested in the UC to advocate for it. UCAN has an ambassador program in which student ambassadors help advocate for causes with UC, such as increased state funding for the University and federal funding for research – issues that aren’t always directly relevant to students.

UCAN takes a more educational role, rather than a lobbying one, when it comes to Sacramento trips. Rafi Sands, a UCLA alumnus who helped create the UCAN ambassador program, said a UCAN Sacramento trip allowed students to see where decisions are made and meet with staffers.

“(UCAN is a) tool by which we can engage students and alumni and faculty in topics of interest. (You can) opt in and join UCAN community. Here is a priority of the UCs, here is a way you can call or advocate,” said Stephanie Beechem, a UC spokesperson.

UCSA, on the other hand, tackles issues that are directly relevant to students.

The changes that UCAN advocates for may be important to the prestige of the UC system, but they overlook a fundamental issue: What’s the use of building a reputable university if students can’t afford to attend?

“UCAN looks to engage key stakeholders for UC budget requests, not student budget requests,” Siegel-Singh said.

UCSA is an organization that inherently has students’ interests in mind, not necessarily the UC system’s. While the University may be focused on things like obtaining more funding from the National Institutes of Health in its budget requests, UCSA focuses on student funding in its campaigning. Administrators need to recognize that UCSA’s fights for students’ needs sometimes coincides with the University’s – and they should support the student advocacy group in those cases.

After all, the UC shouldn’t be forcing students who already have to pay for four years of college to have to pay out of pocket to maintain the University’s tuition levels.

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Opinion columnist | News contributor

Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.

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