When news broke that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be paid $225,000 to address an October fundraiser for the UNLV Foundation, you could only imagine student reaction. Recent tuition hikes on UNLV students, including a four-year, 17 percent hike passed a few weeks earlier, only compounded the outrage.
For students working to afford the cost of a quality public education in Nevada, life has become tougher in recent years. Unemployment rates for college-age individuals remain at record levels, and tuition for Nevada’s in-state universities has tripled in the past 10 years.
Donating her speaking fee to the thousands of students who would benefit from the UNLV Foundation would be an incredible opportunity for Clinton to remain true to her commitment –stated in March at the Globalization of Higher Education conference co-organized by former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush– to making higher education more accessible and affordable for all students.
Though higher education is certainly a priority for leaders both parties, especially potential 2016 presidential candidates like Bush and Clinton, student opposition to Clinton’s speaking fee is neither personal nor political.
In fact, in talking with students, I found them grateful and appreciative for the fundraising efforts of Clinton on behalf of the UNLV Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps raise money to award millions of dollars in scholarships to thousands of UNLV students every year. For that matter, students are excited about anybody who would raise money for UNLV.
However, hundreds of projects on campus would benefit from the funds of her speaking fee. Not just vital undergraduate research – Huffington Post columnist Joe Ferraro calculated her fee would cover tuition and fees for almost 70 students for a semester at UNLV.
In the face of tuition increasing 17 percent over four years, and more than 100 percent in the last decade, students find themselves priced further away from their education. Teenage and young adult unemployment rates in Nevada are among the highest in the nation – Fox 5 Las Vegasreported figures from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in March that teen unemployment was 17.4 percent.
It’s becoming harder for young Nevadans to partake in the “shared sacrifice” of higher tuition, as Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Jason Geddes urged in the Las Vegas Sun, when the job market is making employment incredibly tough to find.
Just two months ago, right around commencement in May, UNLV released statistics to the Las Vegas Review-Journal showing that the average debt burden of the 2012 graduating class was $21,126 per student. Some 40 percent of the 2012 graduating class had taken out student loans.
With a class of about 3,000 students, the total debt burden for the class of 2012 would be about $63 million. Nationwide, student loan debt exceeds credit card debt, and it will be impossible to raise tuition without simultaneously burying students in more student loan debt.
Though Clinton has spent her career standing up for higher education, both in the private sector as well as through public service, students found it difficult to reconcile that support with her receiving a six-figure speaking fee from our university. As the representative voice for 23,000 undergraduate students, the student government in which I serve wanted to let Clinton know her speaking fee, if donated back to UNLV, could serve as a gesture of solidarity with students who are sacrificing so much to pay for their education.
Nevada journalist Jon Ralston noted recently that Clinton has claimed to have donated part or all of her speaking fees back to elite universities all around the country and the world, from Bryn Mawr College to the National Defense University Foundation to St. Andrews University in Scotland.
When Clinton started as a paid speaker last year, Politico reported that she would “likely do some speeches for no fee for causes she champions” and expected to “occasionally donate her fees for charitable purposes.”
If the former secretary of state speaks for 90 minutes, that would be $2,500 a minute, about the cost of a semester’s tuition for a UNLV student. Lost in the partisan rancor of her speaking fee was this question: Who needs the money more, hardworking students buried in student loan debt paying for their education, or a seasoned politician raking in six figures on a regular basis.