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Tuition hikes and increased student fees: in dragon year, no economic relief for Mercer students

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Chinese New Year, also known as the “Spring Festival,” marks the end of winter for China and other parts of the world. The exact date of the festival is based on the cycles of the moon but generally falls in late January or early February. The Chinese zodiac rotates on a 12-year cycle with each year represented by a different animal. 2012 is the year of the Dragon and is believed to be the most royal and lucky of all the animals bringing with it the promise of prosperity and good fortune.

It looks like the good fortune of a dragon year will be skipping Mercer, however, as students can look forward to their fourteenth consecutive tuition increase. An open meeting proposing a tuition and fee increase was held on Mercer’s West Windsor Campus on January 31. The decision to increase student tuition will take place in the upcoming weeks and will go into effect for summer 2012 courses.

During the meeting, Mercer President Dr. Patricia C. Donohue explained that Mercer’s enrollment for this year has suffered a decrease of nearly three percent, resulting in a budget decrease of approximately $333,000. Donohue also attributes the proposed increase to Governor Chris Christie’s state tax decisions for education.

“Over the last four years we’ve seen increasing increases to the pension fund while the state plays catch up. It’s not something we have a choice about. They send us a bill and say this is what you have to pay this year and that bill has been getting bigger every year,” Donohue said while discussing the proposal.

Donohue went on to say, “With our proposed increases full-time tuition using $138 per credit hours for a year will be $3,312.”

The new tuition reflects a total of four courses, the minimum number for students to be considered full-time. However, students who wish to graduate in a two-year time are forced to take at least five courses per semester. This would change the annual tuition rate to $4140, an additional $828 for each student.

Mercer’s Second-Year Social Science student Dickson Gan celebrates Chinese New Year in a traditional way, surrounded by family, friends, and food. When asked if the dragon will still bring luck despite Mercer’s tuition increase Gan says, “There is always a chance of luck and prosperity that can always come back up despite the tuition increase.”

Other numbers are also affected by the symbolism of this year. Because the Year of the Dragon is seen as auspicious and lucky, believers of the zodiac see this as opportunity to make life changes like having children, referred to as a baby-booming year.

Birth rates in the United States rose 2 percent from 1997 to 1998, resulting in a birth increase of 3,941,553. Mary Yen, a Chinese-American woman who sold Chinese trinkets and origami Dragons under a tent at the end of the parade, gave her take on the climb in birth rates during this zodiac year saying, “Whoever is born in this zodiac year will be considered to be very lucky and fortunate.”

The dragon is overlooking Mercer in another way, too. In addition to the increase per credit hour, there will also be a Technology Fee and College Fee increase of $1 each per semester, changing the fees from their current rates of $12.50 and $14 to $13.50 and $15 each semester.

Mercer Economics Professor Framar Khoushab gave his prediction of the economy for 2012. Khoushab said he hopes for a turn-around in the economy but thinks “The growth will not really be dramatic. The most important [element], consumer confidence, which should be there is not there, because of the crisis which we had over the past couple of years. As long as the consumer confidence is not up we are not going to see a major turn-around in economic growth,” says Khoushab.

Still, politicians are hopeful for the Dragon’s good fortune. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was one of the many politicians who participated in the parade. Gillibrand joins believers in thinking the year of the dragon will be an auspicious year for New York.

In an interview conducted by Huffington Post reporter Chris Anderson Gillibrand said, “I know the year of the dragon will be a year of prosperity for all.” Like the senator, many traditional believers of the Dragon also joined in the festivities of the parade with high hopes for a fortunate and flourishing year.

Although Mercer students may be less than lucky to feel the fortunes of the Dragon, some still predict a prosperous future ahead for 2012. Psychic and Intuitive Consultant Nikki Steward gave The VOICE her predictions for the year to come. “A lot of people will see an upswing and the unemployment rates are going to drop,” says Steward. “I have already begun to feel a lot of positive energy in the environment, and people are going to manifest positive thoughts.”

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