Students protest as CUNY OKs tuition hike

York College student Janai Lassiter holds a poster supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement during a protest two weeks ago outside the school. Photo by Christina Santucci
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CUNY students from all five boroughs flocked to Manhattan Monday to protest against a threatened tuition increase, but even though the majority of the public college’s board went ahead with the hike, the sole member who voted no said there will be bigger demonstrations in the future.

Kafui Kouakou, the board’s student trustee, said he could not vote to increase the yearly tuition by $300 annually for the next five years because he knows first-hand how devastating that cost is to a hardworking student.

The York College alumnus and current graduate student at Brooklyn College, said he supported the massive protest outside Baruch College, where the board voted 15-1 Monday to approve the increase, and that nothing could quell the students’ anger.

“This has been a fight that has been going on a while. The students’ stance isn’t going to change,” he said.

Four people were arrested during the protest that started at Madison Square Park and continued to the midtown campus, police said. Despite the students’ outcries, the majority of the board decided that the $4,830 annual tuition at four-year colleges and $3,300 annual tuition at community colleges were not enough to cover the costs of running the various schools across the five boroughs.

In a statement, the board justified its decision and said it was able to get the state Legislature to pass a bill that would eliminate erratic tuition hikes and allow students to know just how much they will pay for their time in college at the beginning of their freshman year.

“By working with governors, mayors, the state Legislature and the City Council, [CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein] has helped achieve in New York what exists in no other state: legislatively mandated budgetary stability, an unprecedented maintenance of effort requirement for both the senior and community colleges, financial aid protection to assist needy students and a multi-year program of modest predictable revenue increases,” CUNY Board Chairman Benno Schmidt said in a statement.

Kouakou, however, said the rest of the board was out of tune with the students, who have had trouble paying the tuition. Kouakou noted that many CUNY students not only come from working-class neighborhoods, but also have to juggle providing for their families at the same time.

“Most of the time you have to study and work. Financial aid always helps, but the fact of the matter [is] financial aid is not given to all students,” he said.

Kouakou blamed Albany for approving the laws that allowed for the increases and said students might be bringing their protests there soon.

“Albany is letting the board of trustees do their dirty work,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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