Struggling to keep afloat

Struggling to keep afloat

By José A. Morales

Higher education in Puerto Rico has two systems: private and public. Private education is more expensive than public education universities, but these public universities with the current changes anticipated, are becoming almost private by high prices that they are implementing despite the bad economic condition students are experiencing.

During the past months, economical situations have been affecting all, including Puerto Ricans students in all eleven campuses of the University of Puerto Rico educational system. To make matters worse, the administrations is planning to add an $800 special fee to help lower the economic crisis among the UPR system, a crisis some students feel they have to pay for it.

“I won’t pay the special fee”, commented Karol Echevarria, an accounting student in UPR-Ponce. “It has nothing to do with our future education and it’s not fair to make us pay for unnecessary costs.” she added.

In April, 2010, ten of the 11 UPR campuses started an indefinite strike to point out the UPR administration that, students will not agree to pay more for public education and that UPR system should assume the costs of its actions, not the students that are also affected by the economic crisis.

Due to the current situation among UPR campuses of implanting the special fee in the January-May semester, many students that can’t afford the fee are being forced to lose the semester and, not to lose it, to job-hunt in many cases to afford paying for the studies and the extra charges. “I’ve been making student loans to afford my educational costs since my parents don’t work”, said Marelys Serrano, a biology student at UPRM.

Poll results from study conducted in November among students housings about the special fee.

During the three month strike, many students were affected economically; many depend on the Pell grant and educationally for months didn’t receive it. To make things matters, those students that depend on the Pell grant and students loans to survive economically, couldn’t pay their economic duties, “I was almost five months behind in my apartment and even electricity”, Serrano’s said to us. “I used my savings to pay everything I owe when classes started” Echevarrìa added.

Since many students come from poor families, to help lower the economical charge the fee is imposing, Puerto Rico legislature and its president Thomas Rivera Schatz proposed to create a student fund, which would be available to needy students. “If the fund is true, I would apply to see if I’m eligible; if not, do like before, student loans and try to have a job to pay for it”, Serrano said.

“That’s why I chose public education, it’s more accessible for middle and lower class people” Echevarría said.

With assemblies being made, alternative solutions are proposed trying to solve the economic crisis UPR system is going through. Echevarría stated that the university should make public some services offered like medical services. That money could be used to overcome the economic crisis and pay for better educational resources. If solutions are not to found, students will consider switching to lower-cost universities to keep studying.

Students will have to take a side in this controversy since it affects us all, Serrano said.  Since a new strike is no solution at UPRM, professors and employees should  be allowed more participation in decision making and take in consideration their proposals since their complaints against staff and section cuts could be controversial in the decision making process against the special fee implementation.

“Since there are other more affordable universities, if the quote will still be implemented, I might switch to other university”, Echevarría said. “I would switch from university, it would eliminate losing days because of strikes and the economic charge would be less since no fee is applied”, Serrano explained.

Both Serrano and Echevarria hope that the assemblies and other organizations could get along and work out a plan with the administration that helps students to lower the economical charge the special fee entails for most of them.

Poll results from study conducted in November among students housings about their economical situation.

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