[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]High tuition fees strangling students

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[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]High tuition fees strangling students

There was a tuition hike in most colleges this year. At universities across the country, including ours here at Sejong, students held rallies to protest that tuition rates were already too high. Despite their opposition, however, the proposed hike was approved and we are having to pay more.
To register for this semester, I was notified I had to pay about 4 million won ($4,300), a 7-percent hike from the previous semester. This is an awful lot of money for me to afford.
There might be some students or parents out there who don’t consider 4 million won a lot of money. They might think that higher education is worth that much, or they may just be well-heeled.
For students from average-income households, it is a large amount of money, so it’s not unusual for them to take part-time jobs; some depend on parents to pay for at least part of their tuition. But for those households earning a below-average income, students have to take out loans. With the Korean student loan system not as borrower-friendly as in other countries, most students have a hard time paying back those loans, even if they get a job after graduation.
Fortunately for me, I have received scholarship grants regularly for working at the school paper (and keeping my grades up to a certain level). With the scholarship, I was still left with about 2 million won to pay per term ― still too difficult for me to come up with. After classes, I usually spent my days reporting and writing for the school paper. At night, I worked a part-time job. During weekends, I tutored two younger students to earn more money.
I never got enough sleep. I trained myself to take a short naps during the day instead of sleeping straight hours at night. Frankly, I thought it was a good experience for a young person to go through ― at first.
But then my grades started to drop and I was in danger of losing my scholarship eligibility. I ended up taking another part-time job to make up the gap. I worked mornings on the new job, then tutored kids in the afternoon. When I had time, I worked on the staff of the school paper.
From November to February, I earned about 2.5 million won. To my relief, the school said I was eligible for a scholarship so I was able to pay for this semester. But one of my friends has had to take a long leave from school, unable to pay the 4 million won tuition.
Tuition fees have been increasing at a fast rate, even faster than the rise in prices of commodities. Recent data from the National Assembly show that prices went up 21 percent during the past six years, but tuition fees rose an average of 45 percent during the same period. This proves that tuition has become a burden for students and their parents.
Schools say they need the tuition increase to provide better-furnished classrooms, new buildings and better professors. Without the hike, universities say, they are in no position to provide these things.
But I wonder why the money has to come from students’ pockets? Couldn’t the schools help poor students instead if they can't lower the tuition? I can’t help imagining that those improvements are only for the benefit of the schools, so they can receive higher ratings.

* The writer is the editor of the Sejong Times, the school’s English-language newspaper.

by Jung Yeon-joon
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