TAMPA — They're upset about tuition hikes totaling 15 percent.
Their parents are suffering, they say, and they're suffering.
"Why are we always being asked to sacrifice?" asked University of South Florida biochemistry major Cody Childers.
Dozens of students marched on the USF administration building Wednesday, chanting, "Judy got paid off, we got ripped off," and "Hi-ho! Tuition hikes have got to go."
The protest, billed as an "Occupy USF" event, was organized by the Students for a Democratic Society. The group planned to target this year's tuition increases — 8 percent by the Legislature and 7 percent by the university system — and demand a freeze. Some called for USF president Judy Genshaft's resignation.
Administrators were ready.
As soon as the group reached the front door, administrators and faculty welcomed them and held it open.
The students were escorted to a room as senior vice provost Dwayne Smith gave each a handout with a graph showing that Florida has some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. USF's is about $4,000 a year for a full-time undergraduate.
With nine campus leaders up front facing a room full of students, the setting felt like a classroom. Some students joked there would be a quiz.
But their concerns were anything but lighthearted.
Childers said he had been laid off from three jobs. Leonah Arroyo, a 24-year-old library and information science master's student, said she can't support herself on the $10 an hour she makes working 10 hours a week at the library.
"We can't afford anything," she said. "We can't afford to eat sometimes."
They pointed to $200 textbooks and said that on-campus living, required of most freshman, is significantly more expensive than off-campus. They questioned cosmetic improvements to the university.
The administrators listened, and many times, they agreed.
Finance professor Scott Besley said he fought to lower the price of a textbook he wrote, but it's an issue with publishers, not the university, he said.
He and the senior vice provost both said if it were possible, they'd like USF to not charge tuition at all.
"But what happens if we face a 10 percent budget cut next year?" Smith asked the group. "That's the rumor."
He said the university's state funding has been cut five years in a row. He encouraged students to start grass roots movements, talk to their state representatives and go to Tallahassee to lobby for decreased tuition.
In the end, administrators didn't accept any of the demands.
"It's not that simple," Smith told a reporter.
But as they walked out, administrators gathered contact information and shook hands with the most vocal students so they might continue the discussion.
Childers said he felt encouraged.
"It seemed like people who appeared to be on different sides here are not enemies," he said.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.