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Rising fees worry students

Students say they are disappointed with the vote by the Okanagan College Board of Governors this week to raise domestic student tuition fees by 2 per cent for the 2014-2015 school year.

The board also chose to increase international student fees by 8 per cent.

"It was obviously not the outcome we wanted, because this comes on top of a 2 percent increase last year," said Gabriel Pratico, campaigns director for the Okanagan College Students' Union. "Tuition fees never seem to go down, they just seem to keep going up, meaning eventually only the very rich can afford an education."

The fee increases were included in the $92.8 million operating budget passed by the board. Pratico was one of two Penticton campus students who gave a presentation at the meeting on the negative effects rising tuition costs pose to students.

While Okanagan College must be held accountable for increasing the burden on  students and their families, he said, the real root of rising tuition fees is the mismanagement  of the Ministry of  Advanced Education by the provincial government.

"The board is faced with deciding on increasing tuition fees or cutting programming after the cumulative pressure of years of funding cuts being offloaded onto the backs of students," he said."If post secondary education was a priority for the provincial government, students in the Okanagan would likely not pay some of the highest college tuition in the province."

What students fear the most, he added, is that a disconnect exists between the reality of students in post secondary and the decision makers within the provincial government.

To further get their message across, the OCSU is working with student unions across the province on the Squash the Squeeze campaign that includes four distinct pillars.

The campaign calls for funding up, fees down, grants not loans and the elimination of interest on students loans. BC currently has the highest rate of interest on students loans in Canada at prime plus 2.5 percent.

Underneath the Squash the Squeeze poster at the Penticton campus, students have expressed concerns including "Taking a break and working to pay for school," and "I can't afford to live on my own because of tuition fees."

As she skateboarded across the Penticton campus on Thursday, student Sierra McConnell said the fee increase will be a hardship.

"I'm already working and taking out loans just to get through school," she said. "I don't even have money saved up to move to Kelowna where the courses I need to take are offered."

As for Pratico, he lives in a supply closet in an apartment he shares with two others, to get by. When this school year ends, he plans to take time off to work to raise money for school.

To continue to raise awareness about what a tuition increase mean to students, the Squash the Squeeze campaign will be ongoing.

Pratico said they will also lobby MLAs on the issue.

College officials were not immediately available for comment.

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