6 demands students are making in Columbia tuition strike

Student protestors want tuition reduced, financial aid increased and public safety reformed

More than 1,400 students at Columbia University are threatening to withhold spring tuition payments unless administrators reduce the cost of attendance, increase financial aid, and meet other demands.

The action has gained momentum as students have struggled financially during the COVID recession, says Columbia-Barnard Young Democratic Socialists of America, the group organizing the strike.

The group has also been inspired by this summer’s social justice protests after the killing of George Floyd, organizers say.

“It’s grown out of a lot of different student movements that have been going on in the past year,” says Emmaline Bennett, leader of the group who is a master’s student at Columbia Teachers College. “People were frustrated with the situation with remote classes and even more significant than that was the impact of economic crisis on a lot of people on their families.”

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For instance, there are fewer jobs available for students to earn money to offset tuition costs, Bennett says.

Her group, working with student government, has had almost no contact with the administration since announcing the potential strike, she adds.

University Business has reached out to the administration for a response.

“We’ve exhausted all routes of pressure on the administration,” Bennett says. “This strike is the only possible next escalation tactic we can think of to have students’ demands listened to.”

The group wants the university to cut tuition, fees, and room and board by at least 10%, and increase financial aid by a similar amount while defunding campus public safety services.

The students are also asking Columbia to prioritize efforts to provide employment, education and affordable housing to residents of West Harlem.

Among the group’s other demands are:

  • Public safety: Invest in community solutions that prioritize the safety of Black students and West Harlem residents, and repair harm caused by prior racist public safety practices.
  • Investment: Complying with student referendums calling for divestment from companies involved in human rights violations and fossil fuels.
  • Labor: Work with campus labor unions to improve compensation, benefits and protections.

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In May, about 200 students at the University of Chicago withheld spring tuition payments in support of students who had been impacted financially by COVID.

The strike ended after three weeks when the administration agreed to freeze tuition, though students have also filed a class-action lawsuit against the university, according to The Progressive.

“One of the things motivating this tuition strike is the idea that this could be an inspiration for students at other schools,” Bennett says. “We see this a part of a nationwide movement against high tuition costs.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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