The students blocked off the main gate to the UPR offices at the Botanical Gardens, pledging to only allow the finance and financial aid offices to continue working.
University officials and former General Student Council President Gabriel Laborde have warned that another student strike would jeopardize federal funding to the UPR and its accreditation by the Middle States Association.
Student protest leader Giovanni Roberto denied that protests would threaten the UPR’s accreditation.
In the wake of the two-month student strike that crippled the spring semester, the university community is facing a new conflict this term as the UPR Board of Trustees has said it will begin levying an annual $800 per student special fee starting in January aimed at getting the public institution through its financial problems.
Students have already approved a resolution to strike over the special fee, but UPR administration officials say the $40 million the quota will raise is essential to confront a deficit of nearly $200 million the system faces for fiscal 2011, which started July 1.
UPR sources have told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that the strike likelihood is higher now that most students have received their semi-annual Pell Grant payments from the federal government.
The majority of UPR students qualify for Pell Grants, which more than cover tuition and leave recipients with discretionary spending money in most cases. According to government statistics, 40,000 UPR students receive Pell Grants. Of that money, 32 percent covers tuition while the remaining 68 percent goes to “other student expenses.”
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the unit of the Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools that accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and several locations internationally, put UPR on probation in June because of a “lack of evidence” that UPR is complying with standards on “leadership and governance,” as well as “educational offerings.”
Schools are placed on probation when the commission believes the noncompliance is “sufficiently serious, extensive or acute that it raises concerns about the adequacy of the education provided by the institution, the institution’s capacity to make appropriate improvements in a timely manner, or the institution’s capacity to sustain itself in the long term.”
The MSCHE required that UPR produce a monitoring report detailing evidence on the changes the administration has instituted to begin meeting standards. The report was followed up by the onsite visit by commission staff in August. Then during its November annual session, the commission will decide whether to remove the probation and reaffirm accreditation, or take further disciplinary actions that could result in the loss of accreditation.
In the wake of the strike, the U.S. Department of Education temporarily stripped UPR of its eligibility for federal student assistance programs, which pump more than $200 million annually into the island’s public and most respected university, largely through direct payments to students. All 11 campuses filed the required documentation and eligibility was quickly restored.
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THREAD ON THE UPR STUDENT STRUGGLE: