The student advocacy group Education Not Debt is developing a referendum which would give AU students the chance to officially vote for a tuition freeze as the University heads into the 2016-2017 budget year.
The referendum asks for a freeze on students’ tuition costs from year to year. The AU Board of Trustees is not officially required to implement student referenda except in rare situations, so implementation of the referendum would be coordinated by the next Student Government president.
END is currently gaining signatures on a petition to get the referendum onto the spring SG elections ballot. According to the Student Government Bylaws, the petition needs at least 10 percent of the student body, or approximately 700 students, to sign on in order to advance. As of Feb. 24, the total was close to 500, but END hopes to surpass its goal before the elections, according to END coalition member Will Mascaro.
Once a referendum is placed on the ballot, a majority of the students voting need to vote in favor to confirm its passage. According to the SG Bylaws, any student enrolled in a program or school at AU may vote.
Mascaro believes that passing the referendum would be a major success for the END coalition and the student body.
“The main goal for the referendum is to galvanize support from as many students as possible and to send a clear message to the University that students are clearly in support,” he said.
The referendum could also make it onto the ballot as a resolution passed by the Undergraduate Senate. However, the benefit of a petition, according to Mascaro, is that it represents a “grassroots campaign” and shows the University the widespread support of students in favor of a referendum before the election cycle.
Speaker of the Undergraduate Senate, Gabriel Unruh, echoed the coalition’s decision to push for a petition among the student body rather than adopt it through the senate with limited members.
“The Senate is proud to be a part of the Education Not Debt coalition, and we look forward to giving students the chance to voice, in unity, their proposition [for] a tuition freeze and to American University standing up as a private university leader in improving the welfare and financial stability of the millennial generation,” Unruh said in an email.
Unruh declined to say whether he felt the referendum would pass in the senate, but he recalled SG’s partnership with END in the past.
“We have been incredibly supportive with every initiative that [END] has pushed for in the past and present,” he said in an email.
END is a relatively new organization on campus, having only formed last year based on students’ interest in halting tuition hikes by the Board of Trustees, according to Mascaro.
“Education Not Debt is a student organization and movement trying to provide support to students facing an increasing amount of debt,” Mascaro said. “We are ensuring that the opportunity to go to college is accessible to all students.”
According to Mascaro, the coalition hopes this referendum is as successful as the statement the organization made last February arguing against the University’s plan to raise tuition rates. While tuition was ultimately scheduled to increase by 6.5 percent over the next two years, Mascaro believes that protests from over 250 students likely convinced the Board from raising the rates further.
Mascaro also said that the coalition’s next goal following the referendum will be to get the University entirely on board with establishing the tuition freeze. He noted that the likelihood of that occurring would be dramatically increased with more students voicing their support.
“When it comes to campus-wide decisions such as this, it lies in our ability to come together to show where we stand on the issues,” Mascaro said.