By Kenneth Rivera
In a time of economic recession in our country it is clear that many sectors of our society are affected. Such is the case of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). The UPR is passing through one of the worst crises in its history, with a deficit, according to various estimates, ranging from 130 to 200 million of dollars.
The UPR Administration imposed a special fee of 800 dollars to continue their function as University and to reduce the budget deficit. The student community rejects this special fee because they do not consider it appropriate that students pay for the mistakes of the administration.
Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, announced in his last speech to the country that the UPR students have available five options to deal with the costs of studies with the imposition of the special fee. But according to the student press collective “Desde Adentro”, who investigated these options, it does not solve the financial crisis that students face in January 2011.
Both students and professors believe that the imposition of this fee is a step towards the privatization of the university which would imply a radical increase in costs of enrolment thereby preventing entry of low-income students.
Melissa Santiago, a 19- year- old Industrial Microbiology student at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez (UPRM), said: “Public education is charged as private.” As many students she had been forced to consider changing to another University. The expenses for her family will be higher since his brother will be starting at college this year.
The situation of students is worse with the passage of time when approaching to the date of payment of the fee for the next six months not yet have achieved agreements to repeal it. Many of them, even of those who receive the Pell Grant full (33 percent of students), must finally pay the costs of accommodation, meal and transportation to continue studying at the university because it only covers them the costs of registration and fee. Even if students are managing money for scholarships, loans, worktops from parents and half-time work more wisely, expenditures remain excessive.
Dan Rivera, 21- year- old Business Administration student at the UPRM, had to find a job once his brother began his studies again to be able to afford food and basic needs. Their home budget doesn’t allow them to stay together but only one of them can pay for hosting. Either his brother or he receives any economic aid; alongside to the imposition of the special fee it strongly affects their parents that have arrears on debts.
In an interview made to Ismael Acosta, financial aid officer at the UPRM, the number of requests of student loans has increased considerably. “Many students, knowing that they do not qualify for student loans, decide to request to have a record if there is an opportunity to qualify in the future”, said Acosta.
Although many students have decided to find a way to pay the special fee, others decided to apply for private universities. According to an anonymous source there have been more than 750 requests for transfer in the UPRM to private universities.
Private universities have made a great effort to provide economics aid programs to students so they can complete their studies. The main reason to quit studying in private universities is the cost of living. The UPR students have come to a similar situation since many of the students who receive financial aid have problems to pay such costs.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, study and living costs are around $14,000 per year.
In accordance with an interview for the link 80grados.net Argeo Quiñones, professor of Economics at the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras, said that if the UPR 62,000 students are posted for the collection of 40 million that seeks to achieve the management of the UPR, the fee should be reduced to 650 dollars. Quiñones argues that the University Administration is forecasting a reduction in the student enrollment with the imposition of this special fee.
The Budget of the General Fund of the UPR was amended on June 30 with a 2.001442 percent which leaves the UPR budget with 17,985,138 dollars less. According to a statement of Puerto Ricans academics and academic in the United States on the current conflict in the UPR cutting the budget of the UPR, from the first educational institution in our country, without exploring other alternatives is way faster to weaken a vital project for our democracy and social existence.
In addition there will be a reduction of $90 million in the ARRA funds allocated to the UPR for the fiscal year 2010-2011.
All this generates great anxiety to the UPR students since this conflict points, according to them, to the privatization of the first educational institution in the country.