Columbia Students Wage the Largest Tuition Strike in Nearly 50 YearsBreaking News
tags: higher education, student debt, colleges and universities
On January 22, students at Columbia University in New York began the largest tuition strike in nearly 50 years. With the tuition deadline behind them, students say they plan on withholding payment until the university’s administration agrees to both reduce the cost of attendance and increase financial aid by 10%.
Since this summer, members of the Columbia University-Barnard College chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) have been gearing up to address “the injustice of exorbitant tuition rates” and “a flagrant disregard for initiatives democratically supported within the community.” Organizers say that at least 1,100 students are now actively withholding tuition, and a petition in support of the strike has so far collected more than 4,300 student signatures.
Organizers with YDSA, the campus-oriented youth contingent of Democratic Socialists of America, have formed a coalition between student groups across campus, the graduate student workers’ union, and members of the surrounding West Harlem community to compile a list of demands that go beyond tuition and debt to address racism, public safety, fossil fuel divestment and gentrification.
Students say they’ve already won a number of concessions. Over the past few weeks, the administration announced it would freeze tuition, suspend fees on late payments, increase spring financial aid and provide a limited amount of summer grants to students.
While students believe these changes are a direct result of the tuition strike, a university spokesperson told In These Times over email, “The decisions to freeze tuition and provide enhanced financial aid occurred several months ago and are part of the University’s ongoing effort to address the financial hardship of students and their families that began at the onset of the pandemic.”
Given these changes, students who are withholding tuition were surprised when they learned of multiple cases in which $150 late fees appeared in students’ accounts last weekend, though they have not been able to confirm whether they are expected to pay this fee.
The administration has not been in direct communication with student organizers. However, during a tuition strike press conference on January 17, university officials were seen passing out printed statements that read, in part, “This is a moment when an active reappraisal of the status quo is understandable, and we expect nothing less from our students. Their voices are heard by Columbia’s leadership, and their views on strengthening the University are welcomed.”
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