Students react: 'It shouldn't be our job to fix the city's deficit'

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University of Pittsburgh junior Matt Riehle called it "a slap in the face."

At Carnegie Mellon University, Rosanna Breaux said she already works three jobs to pay her school's $40,000-plus tuition, and a new bill amounting in her case to more than $400 would be piling on the financial hardship.

Jason Hanbury, a Community College of Allegheny County student, had this blunt advice for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who yesterday proposed a 1 percent tax on tuition paid by students pursuing a higher education in the city:

"He just needs to take a pay cut and not raise our taxes," said Mr. Hanbury, 34, of West Deer, standing with friends on the school's Allegheny campus. "We're barely surviving as it is."

On campuses citywide, the mayor's initiative to plug a $15 million budgetary hole and keep some public libraries from closing seemed as popular with students as an outbreak of swine flu. Their complaints mirrored issues likely to be raised today as college leaders hold a news conference, though the students used language in some cases far more colorful.

"It's kind of bullcrap," said Pitt junior Josh Smith, 21, from Reading, Pa.

Some called it unfair and indicative of a city that does not appreciate what tens of thousands of campus dwellers do for an otherwise aging community. A few made references to the city's treatment of college students during the G-20 summit protests in September.

Mr. Riehle, 20, noted that the mayor who is trying to balance the budget off the backs of college students is the same mayor whose name is found on pricey garbage cans in the city.

Another Pitt student Robert Delfgaauw, 22, a senior biology major, said the whole concept makes no sense.

"It shouldn't be our job to fix the city's deficit, especially when we're already paying thousands of dollars for school," he said.

The mayor's office views the tax as being neither on the institutions nor students. Instead, it would be a levy -- based on what a student pays -- intended as compensation for the privilege of attending a college in Pittsburgh.

Carnegie Mellon junior Colleen Grogan, 21, from Salt Lake City, said the proposal unfairly burdens those attending higher-priced campuses.

At Carnegie Mellon, yearly undergraduate tuition of $40,300 means she would pay a tax of about $403.

"We pay three times what a student at Pitt pays," she said, alluding to Pitt's in-state yearly base tuition of $13,334. "That 1 percent tax would hit us a lot harder."

At Pitt, out-of-state students whose tuition is higher -- $23,042 a year -- would pay about $230, nearly twice the $133 tax that in-state students would face.

Not everyone was opposed. Some like Pitt freshman Jenn Cilingin, 19, of suburban Philadelphia, said if it benefits Pittsburgh and is "actually going to something that I am going to see results from, like keeping the libraries open, etc., then yeah, I don't have an issue with it."

Michael Jones, 26 of Carnegie, has already decided to spread his senior year at Point Park University over two academic years to make it more affordable, since he's paying for it with the earnings from his second job. The tax would mean "less luxuries at home. It means not being able to go out to dinner with my fiancee."

It won't cause him to quit, because he doesn't feel that education is optional. "Without my education, I'm not going to be able to get promoted at my job."

Tamara Dajani, a Duquense University sophomore, said the tax would probably force her mother, who lives in Lower Burrell, to borrow more money to back her pursuit of a degree in sports marketing and pre-law. "We can barely pay the tuition already," she said.

Had she known a few years ago that a tuition tax was on the horizon, she might have gone to school somewhere else, she said. "It's extra money [on the bill] than if I were to pick somewhere like IUP," she said, referring to Indiana University of Pennsylvania.


Staff Writer Rich Lord contributed. Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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