Clark Atlanta Students Revolt Over Tuition Hike - Higher Education


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Clark Atlanta Students Revolt Over Tuition Hike

by Add Seymour, Jr.

ATLANTA

Justin Mills walked around the Clark Atlanta University campus last week and saw white fliers posted all over the place.

An anonymous group of students had printed up the fliers — which Mills says read “Speak Now, Act Now” — to demand the resignation of school president Walter Broadnax, who has led the school since 2002.

The fliers protested Broadnax’s high salary while students’ tuition, room and board have recently been increased.

“A lot of students up here are paying by themselves, out of pocket, with grants or by loans,” says Mills, a 21-year-old mass media arts major from Houston. “So it’s really hitting students hard.”

The anonymous resignation demand is just the latest in a recent string of issues surrounding the Atlanta University Center campus.

A group of students and professors from CAU’s engineering department are suing the school over their decision to shut down the 13-year-old program. Administrators say it is a cost-cutting move to help erase $7.5 million in debt, but the students and professors believe the move didn’t follow university processes. They argue that the final decision on the program would have been different had administrators gone through proper channels.

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case March 13.

One student said Thursday that safety is still a concern on campus after the November 2006 sexual assault of a female student by three non-CAU students.

And last spring, school officials agreed to refund $5 million to a U.S. Department of Energy program in the wake of program, reporting and accounting deficiencies.

But students said Thursday that the anonymous flier has been the talk of campus this week. For at least some students, the tuition hike was the final straw.

Last week, CAU’s board of trustees decided to raise tuition 5 percent at the private school.

Undergraduate students now pay $14,810 a year in tuition. The increase will take that figure to $15,550. Graduate student tuition will also rise, from $617 per credit hour to $648 per credit hour.

School meal plans will also go up, from $2,395 to $2,486 a year.

The move comes on the heels of a 6 percent increase in tuition last year.

“A lot of students have been picking up around campus and starting organizations to try to get [the administration} to do something,” Mills says.

Meanwhile, Broadnax has seen his salary nearly double since 2003. According to the schools’ 2003 IRS filing, Broadnax made approximately $236,000 that year. A year later, he earned $384,000 and was up to $400,000 by 2005, the last available record. Those figures also include contributions to his employee benefit plans and deferred compensation.

CAU spokeswoman Debi Miller says Broadnax and the administration hear the students’ concerns, but she says the president will not be going anywhere.

Broadnax says he saw the fliers too.

“It hurt,” Broadnax says. “They are why you are here. If I didn’t care about these students, I wouldn’t have taken this job.”

“I understand how spending more for an education that’s already hard for our students to pay for already is tough,” Broadnax says. “But the truth is the materials that I promised for your education that cost $10 last year, costs $13 this year. It’s called inflation.”

As for the tuition increase, Miller says they are in line with tuition hikes at other private institutions.

“We welcome students to express their concerns,” she says. “The university is determined to bring the best we can for them. The university looked at what we need to provide for the students before we recommended the increase. The university must keep in pace with inflation and increasing our financial strength as we continue to maintain a safe learning environment for the students.”

Mills says he and other students remain concerned but don’t see much happening.

“Really, what can we do when it comes down to it,” he says.

–Add Seymour, Jr.

 

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