NCSA Scholarship proposed to cushion tuition hikes

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In the wake of hard hits on public education during the recent 2012 Florida legislative session, New College Student Alliance (NCSA) Vice President of Relations and Financial Affairs Alex Wyllie presented a resolution to the Towne Meeting on Mar. 14 that would revise NCF’s current fiscal codes to include the allocation of a by-students-for-students scholarship.

The proposal, which is still in its early draft stages, would allow for the formation of an allocations body, which will consist of an elected chair, the chair of the Student Allocations Committee (SAC), two representatives elected by the Council of Student Affairs, the Vice President of Relations and Financial Affairs, the president(s) of the NCSA (or their designee) and the chair of the Council of Academic Affairs (CAA.) Also, a representative from both the Office of Financial Aid and the New College Foundation, along with the NCSA Business Manager, would round out the committee.

The NCSA Scholarship Committee would, in turn, function similarly to other student allocation bodies, such as the CAA or the SAC. The proposed scholarship’s funds would come from the NCSA reserve fund’s annual accrued interest, which is roughly $12,000 per fiscal year. About $5,000 of that potentially could go to students to pay for tuition.

“It is my hope that we could get an equal donation from the Foundation towards this,” Wyllie said at the Towne Meeting. “Currently [the NCSA would] be committing $5,000 ourselves. Each [recipient] would probably get approximately $1,000. If we get a larger amount, then the amount could go up, but that all depends on the allocations committee. They could amend the bylaws to make a max or a min.”

“The first idea was that students would go out and raise money and have their own scholarship that we could award to our peers,” NCSA president and second year Michael Long said. He explained how the idea came out of a casual conversation he had with fellow students about budget cuts and tuition increases. He said it looked more feasible after finding a way to use the reserve fund interest.

The proposal came out of NCSA initiative and student input. Long said that input meetings, including two fireside chats dedicated to the topic, were well attended, and students were mostly concerned with the formation of the scholarship committee and who would be deciding on the recipients.

Recipients of the scholarship would be chosen based on criteria of financial need, academic merit and community engagement.

Wyllie emphasized that the scholarship “is a work in progress and this motion was only the first step.”

While the resolution was passed by the student body in attendance of the Towne Meeting, some concern was expressed before it went to vote. An amendment was made that would specify that student names not be submitted to the committee. The students requesting funds would remain anonymous to avoid bias in the process. Also, it was agreed that wording be changed to avoid the “his/her” gender dichotomy, instead using the pronoun “their.”

The proposed scholarship resolution brought to light the common plight of student financial situations. The document points out a recent 15 percent tuition increase, as well as the decrease in work study positions for New College students.

Cuts in public education funds have resulted in a tuition increase of nearly 65 percent over five years. Long explained that this is because of a 15 percent increase each year for the past five academic and fiscal years.

While no official increase has been set for the upcoming school year, Long said that it is likely that the college will have to increase tuition 15 percent to maintain the core of its academic program. “The state legislature reduced funding for New College and the other [state colleges] a total of $300 million, so New College is looking at roughly a $1.5 million deficit next year,” he said. “So a tuition increase is almost necessary to make up the financial loss when it comes to state revenue.”

Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director of Progress Florida, a progressive advocacy group based in St. Petersburg, spoke with the Catalyst about these budget cuts.

“Every single year, the legislature, instead of adding the funds that we need for a strong, robust, nationally respected higher education system . . . instead of fully funding that, like many other states do, they continue to slash the budgets of our universities,” Ferrulo said.

Ferrulo noted the irony of state spending practices. “When you start increasing the cost of college to the degree that we are in this state, you’re really putting it out of reach for so many families and for young people in our state,” he said. “Many of them academically have performed and totally deserve to be in college and would ultimately improve our work force, which would attract business to this state . . . instead we are putting higher education beyond the reach of many students, and a real burden on the backs of middle class families, which are already struggling.”

Long said that more and more students over the past year have been expressing their “It’s really scary how many people come to me and say ‘Hey my parents lost their jobs, we need some help, do you know any scholarships I can apply for?’” he said. He mentioned that he’s had both in-state and out-of-state students come with the same concerns and financial problems.

“I think in the beginning we’ll end up helping five to 10 students — those who need it the most,” Long said. “Once the program gets off the ground and we start a process for student fundraising . . . I think we’ll be able to help more than five or 10 students a year. Just think about how small a campus we have with only 800 students — by helping five or 10 students who are in dire financial straits, its still a big impact.”

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