Three years of weekly visibility and educational events, letter writing drives, and occasional mass-mobilizations elicited no response from legislators. Other than the massive pre-war convergence, the local and national media was preoccupied with the scrabble to rationalize our occupation of Iraq and paid lip service to student and local antiwar activity.
In February of 2005, students from UCA attended the Young Democratic Socialists fall conference and we met a couple of excited students from Rutgers who had participated in Tent State University(2). In 2003, Rutgers University in New Jersey was seeing unprecedented budget cuts in higher education in the wake of the war in Iraq. The students took notice, and they organized one of the most dynamic and educational events in popular education history. Students, community members, and professors decided to stand up, and consequently started an international student movement for educational rights. The main slogan is "education, not empire," and it is a multifaceted movement -- translatable to nearly any locale.
Our YDS chapter's effort to bring an alternative university to UCA has been a long and gradual process, given that we live in a very conservative region in a general education public university. The first year, we were able to work with the administration to grant us two days and one night, where we set up campus and did one workshop. The reaction was positive and the next year, they granted us a whole week- in which we had a number of cross-generational activist dialogues and a few workshops on democracy in education, capped off with a musical performance. This year, we got the go ahead a full month in advance and were able to slate a whole week on workshops and music oriented towards everything from feminist theory and DIY living to the War on Terror and student union building. It rained all week, so numbers were dampened, but a few activists pulled a few all-nighters and were able to construct -canvasses and bandstands so workshops and concerts could continue unhindered.
Tent State is a vibrant and malleable countercultural focal point. The purpose of education has been hindered in this anti-intellectual, hyper-materialist culture. For a democratic nation, it is necessary to have an educated populace. Furthermore, an education is meant for more than simply guaranteeing job placement to a young person - it is a vehicle of social integration and empowerment. True education comes from a dynamic dialogue between those grounded in a discipline and those newcomers who come with a great amount of curiosity and fresh insight.
Today, a bachelor's degree is considered the equivalent of yesterday's high school diploma. That being the generally held belief, we find it necessary to decommodify postsecondary education. Learning isn't something that one does for sixteen years before entering the workforce and becoming an expendable market utility. The true purpose of institutional postsecondary education is to give young people a basic grounding in occupational skills and to give them an opportunity to participate in society at large. This is becoming an increasingly unattainable commodity. Even with the tentative hikes in Pell Grant funding this year (there's a five-year plan to increase grants by $800...though other grants are being cut to compensate, such as the FSEOG program), people are steadily being left by the wayside.
Take UCA for example- one of the most affordable educational institutions in the U.S.- Tuition has jumped by 4.7% on average for the last few years and inflation continues to raise the cost of living. The maximum Pell Grant is $4,500 per semester this year, $8,100 per annum. It costs $16,636 yearly to attend UCA -- according to the National Center for Education Statistics (3) -- for tuition, housing, books, and bare living essentials. This leaves the average working-class student with $8.5 thousand dollars per year to scrap up in loans or sparse scholarships. Assuming that a student has a career in mind from the age of 18 and keeps a full class load for four years, they have to scrap together $34 thousand dollars. This sure makes the constant naggings of military recruiters seem a lot more enticing, eh?
Written by Kenny Grand who is a member of the YDS National Coordinating Committee and a chapter leader at UCA.