Kelly Tyko

Last August, when Umar Ghuman first came to FAU, he spent his first two nights at the Courtyard Marriott. He then packed up his two small bags and was homeless.


Luckily, Ghuman originally from Pakistan, met some fellow international students – people who understood his situation – and offered him a couch to sleep on and a place to keep his toothbrush.


He didn’t have a car, so he walked. If it rained, he walked. If it was scorching hot, he walked. He walked so much that in his first year, his waist dropped six sizes.  


Now halfway through his Masters’ in Business Administration degree, Ghuman has an apartment, which he shares with an Indian couple, and just got a “new” car last week. He’s comfortable here and knows that attending FAU is the best hope for his future – if he can afford the present.


“This is my last chance,” Ghuman says with a sigh. “I might have to leave Florida and probably the United States.”


On June 5, Ghuman started to really worry. On that day, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed off on the state’s budget and approved a tuition increase of 5-percent for undergraduates, with the option of another 5-percent by the individual schools. For graduates, Bush signed off on a 5-percent increase, with the option of up to another 10-percent for out-of-state students.


This means Ghuman’s tuition bill for the upcoming school year could be about $2,443 more than last year. And he’s not the only student that can expect to pay more.


In-state undergrads can expect an $83 hit to their wallets, while out-of-state undergrads $1,578, both for a 30-hour course load.


For graduate students, the increases are steeper. Increases include a maximum jump of $412 for in-state students, while $2,443 for out-of-state students.


Students aren’t taking these increases without a fight.


Since state lawmakers passed the increase last month, Student Governments on all of Florida’s 11 public universities have united like never before to lobby Bush and save students like Ghuman.


When the decision was Bush’s to make, Student Government started a letter-writing campaign where students asked him to veto the increase. Now, they will do the same to the members of FAU’s board of trustees.


FAU Student Body President Pablo Paez says to make lobbying efforts more effective was the main reason to rejoin the Florida Student Association (FSA), an organization where students from Florida‘s public universities collaborate together.


“Instead of just being 25,000 students, together we are 245,000 students. A strong FSA means a strong FAU,” Paez says.


Although their main fight was lost when Bush signed the budget without vetoing the increases — they haven’t lost all hope.


“Nothing changes from our perspective. Now, we move from a state effort to a local effort,” Paez says. “We feel that the local boards shouldn’t have the power to raise tuition. They need to know how to use that power wisely – and for the best interests of students.”


The main stance of FSA is that tuition increases should be left to the legislature to make – not individual schools. A recent nationwide report by the Chronicle of Higher Education points out that among eight out of 10 of the largest increases in tuition where implemented by local or state boards.


These statistics are why FAU’s SG and FSA will continue to fight to keep the power in the legislature, Paez says.


“If tuition control is given to Florida‘s university boards of trustees, students and parents can expect sizable tuition increases over the next few years,” says David Foy, executive director of FSA.


Paez agrees, “If the boards were given that authority it would open the doors for tuition to be raised to unprecedented amounts.”


While that won’t happen this year, Paez says that SG will try to convince FAU’s board of trustees of the increases’ impact on students before they make their decision (see box). He says, “It’s not over until they vote.”


And while students are fighting the increases, FAU administrators are welcoming them graciously, saying, “They are in students’ best interests.”


Rick Osburn, the incoming acting president and the current provost, says, “I’m really glad that we got an approval. This is the best decision for students, as it will help us afford new programs.


“It’s a very good thing for the university. I understand where students are coming from but this will help us meet the needs and expectations of the students much better,” Osburn says.


“It’s necessary,” adds outgoing president Anthony Catanese, who’ll leave the university on June 30.


“I agree with the point that the state of Florida should give more money to higher education. But students need to play their part. I think it’s (the increase’s) fair. It’s helping to better their education,” Catanese says.


Just how the increases will help to better education, is a question SG leader Brandey Parker wants answered before she pays a penny.


“If I’m still hearing that people can’t graduate on time because of classes being canceled and students suffering in huge classes – that’s not helpful.


“I want them to prove to me that it’s helping us. That’s why students are so against this. The tuition has gone up and up every year and we’ve actually seen less,” Parker says.


Parker’s right. Tuition in Florida does go up every year and it rises a lot faster than inflation.


Every year, “consumers face price increases for products and services. However, if these following alarming numbers were insurance rates or country club dues, the consumer would definitely consider alternative products or services,” Foy says. “Since 1995-1996, tuition has increased 39.2 percent, student fees 25.7 percent, books 30.4 percent, and room and board 54.2 percent.”


For Ghuman these increases make him wonder why he chose Florida: “I could have went to Harvard for these prices. Or I could have gone to the University of Texas.


“One reason I chose Florida was because the price of education was supposedly less, now I might have to leave.”


Leave a school where he’s comfortable, has friends, and the new car that cost him $500, but he still loves.


Although the car isn’t as luxurious as the silver Mercedes he had before coming to America, his blue ’85 Honda runs.


“I’ve given up a lot to come here as most international students do. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all worried about where we go from here,” Ghuman says.