Editorial: At UMN, student service fees play an important role

We must protect the fees from a bill at the state Legislature that would make them optional.

Daily Editorial Board

Currently, a bill is being debated in the Minnesota Legislature that would make student service fees (SSF) optional, allowing students to opt out of a higher tuition for services that they might not be using. Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage said at a House higher education committee hearing last week that he thinks student service fees are financially burdensome for students who may not benefit from the services campus student groups provide.

The bill comes amid increasing student service fees at the University of Minnesota. Last year, the fee for students, per semester, hovered at around $432. In 2006, it was a little more than $305.

The rise in cost also follows a surge in University-recognized student groups on campus. This year, 130 groups have received funding through SSF, up from only 84 in 2014.

Before concluding, it is important to question the assumption being made. Just because there isn’t any direct involvement of students in SSF, do students still benefit from them?

While the bill would apply to all state colleges, students at the University of Minnesota — regardless of their participation in activities funded by SSF — still benefit, even if it is implicitly. SSF allows students to construct the fabric of the University, something that defines the appeal of the school to prospective students and faculty. Many student groups reliant on SSF belong to chapters of NGOs, and their excellence puts the University in the spotlight — this helps our campus.

Furthermore, groups like the Minnesota Student Association and the Minnesota Daily serve necessary functions on campus — and they’re funded through student service fees, too. Student support groups that unify the student body on campus also play a vital role in ensuring a solid campus climate and the air of belonging. If made optional, their funding could necessarily be slashed, hurting the vision and groundwork they have constructed on campus.

What’s more, about 93 percent of the fees support a whole slew of major players on campus, including Boynton Health, Student Unions and Activities, University Student Legal Services, the Aurora Center, University Recreation and Wellness and the Student Conflict Resolution Center.

The notion that students should only pay for resources they use is highly appealing in principle. In practice, there must be many careful considerations — will one student’s choices affect the operations of a group frequented by many students if it does not receive adequate funding? It’s a question lawmakers at the Capitol should be asking.

If lawmakers are adamant about cutting a meager $400 from a tuition that costs tens of thousands, that policy is severely misplaced. They can do better.