Group organizing campus walkout if tuition increases approved

Sick of the routine tuition hikes at the state’s colleges, a former student is organizing students to walk out of class and head to the state Capitol the day the Board of Regents for Higher Education approves increasing tuition.

“It has become abundantly clear that students are being used as an ATM,” said Danny Ravizza, who attended Western Connecticut State University until 2011.

“There needs to be a concerted effort to stop this or it’s just going to continue,” said Ravizza, who is now an organizer with Connecticut Citizen Action Group.

The movement to derail the proposed $778-a-year spike in costs to attend Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities may be gaining momentum.

In the past month, 178 people have signed an online petition to the governing Board of Regents asking it to vote against tuition increases. And 112 people have become “members” of Ravizza’s Facebook group, known as Students of Connecticut Universities for Democracy.

“I’m paying for college myself and I’m only 23 years old. I don’t know if I can afford to go to graduate school at this rate,” Cynthia Green of New Haven signed.

A spokeswoman for the system said affordability is on the minds of the regents as they work to balance the system’s budget.

“The Board of Regents’ Finance Committee will review tuition and fee proposals tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 19), understanding that, in this fiscal climate, any increase can be difficult for our students to absorb. The Regents are particularly mindful of the affordable option our institutions have represented for in-state students, while at the same time, are seeking to make our institutions more attractive to out-of-state students who pay additional money to attend,” Colleen Flanagan Johnson wrote in an email.

In a flyer being distributed to the faculty and students at the campuses, the citizen group indicates that it is working with the student government associations.

The complaints are threefold: cuts in state funding, a reduction in student representation on the system’s governing board and routine increases in tuition.

Over the last two school years, state funding for the dozen community colleges and four state colleges has declined by 15.3 percent, or $49.4 million. If this tuition proposal is adopted, tuition will have increased by at least $1,000 a year for the average student, an 11.8 percent increase in three years. Additionally, there are eight new fees many students will be required to pay next year.

Saying students and staff are “near a breaking point,” the flyer says “there are also talks with the Western and Central faculty members to suspend classes on the day of the tuition hike vote and bus students up to the Capitol to have our voices heard. Western and Central’s SGA’s have stepped up to appropriate the travel funds as soon as the faculty is on board.”

The Regents’ Finance panel is scheduled to vote on a tuition plan Tuesday. Ravizza said a group of students are planning to attend the meeting to oppose the proposal.