It’s time the Student Services Fee decreased

By Eric

Since becoming a student at the University in fall 1994, I have been witness to a number of troubling things: student apathy, raised tuition and faculty/administration conflict are just a few examples. However, it is the student services fee that has troubled me the most.
The crux of the problem with the fee is the amount of increase during the past few years. During the 1984-85 school year, each student paid $84.12 per quarter. By 1991-92, the fee had risen almost 50 percent to $118.03. This year, each student on this campus pays at least $156.71 per quarter, not including the various special assessments that total almost $20.
Last year, this tragedy angered me to the point of applying to be on the fees committee. I was fortunate enough to get on, and I thought, finally, I would have a chance to lower the student services fee. I had no idea just how wrong I was.
Unfortunately, I served as a minor bump in the road that led to an increased fee. The vast majority of the committee members seemed to be more concerned about funding a number of growing bureaucracies rather than considering the financial strain an increased fee posed to the average student. Many of the requests for increased fees sailed through the committee.
When the increase was kept to about 7 percent, we were congratulated on our supposed fiscal responsibility by student leaders. These are the same leaders that turned around two months later and complained about the 7 percent increase in tuition proposed by the regents. I’m sure that the regents were thoroughly confused by our leaders’ waffling ideals about 7-percent increases. Our student leaders were correct the second time: The increase was too much. A better term to describe last year’s fees decisions may have been “fiscal ineptitude.”
The greatest concern for me during the entire process was a gross lack of student input. When I discussed the fee with individual students, concern and confusion about how to express their opinions came up often. There was, however, the means for student input.
Three public hearings were set for the week between the two fees deliberations. Attendance at these hearing was fairly impressive; unfortunately, the makeup of the audience at the meetings was not. It was saturated with students (and many non-students) whose sole purpose was to encourage increased funding to the groups that they were members or employees of. I would have liked to have seen more students who weren’t choked by organizational ties, but rather independently considered the consequences of the proposed fee. It wasn’t until after the final fee was approved that these people began to express concern. It was the age-old case of too little, too late.
We must not allow this culture of overspending to continue to pervade the fees process. The student body must do all it can to reverse this trend. Not next month, not next quarter, not next year — but now.
With tuition on the rise, we can’t afford not to.
Student government isn’t going to get the job done. The Minnesota Student Association, your student government, consistently asks for increased fees. This year, in the same meeting MSA members discussed the horrors of increased tuition, members approved a fees request of $215,982, an increase of $25,000. This year, the MSA budget called for more than $18,000 in stipends. These stipends for student leadership positions are unnecessarily excessive. Many of the students who accept stipends are not even in leadership positions to serve students, but rather they hold titles that build up their resumes while at the same time padding their wallets with student money.
Very few fees-receiving organizations have enough concern for students to ask for significantly lower fees. One such group does exist — the St. Paul Board of Colleges (SPBOC). I am proud to say that I am a member of this organization that showed great resourcefulness in its fees request. We were able to easily lower our request by $1280 (6.7 percent) from last year’s request. One of the areas cut was stipends. Currently, SPBOC officers are offered $200 per quarter. The current request lists the stipends for SPBOC officers between $100 and $150. This is more than enough for a position that should be viewed as one of voluntary leadership.
Student fees are rising at a rate much higher than that of tuition. From the 1984-85 school year until 1995-96, tuition and fees increased from $3,095 to $4,301, an increase of 39 percent. The student services fee during the same period increased an amazing 74 percent. These figures clearly illustrate the out-of-control nature of the student services fee.
Students on this campus need to rally together to lower the student services fee. Regardless of what they may say, it has been demonstrated that these fees-receiving groups do have the ability to make minor cuts in their respective budgets. Many will make the argument that, at the very least, the fee should be increased by the rate of inflation. It is my belief that in the last ten years, fees increases have more than made up for inflation for many, many years to come. My proposal is that we call for a 5 percent overall reduction in the student services fee. This reduction would not be aimed at any particular group nor do significant damage to services provided by these groups. A 5 percent reduction would save the average undergraduate on this campus nearly $8 per quarter. It may not sound like much, but it is a step in the right direction.
If you are concerned about the fee, it is extremely important that you attend the public hearings to be held later on this month. They will be held as follows: Wednesday, Feb. 26 from 4-6 p.m. in Coffman Memorial Union; Thursday, Feb 27 from 11-1 in the St. Paul Student Center; Friday, Feb 28 from 11-1 in Coffman Memorial Union. Please show up at these hearings and speak in favor of a 5 percent reduction in the fee. In order for this to happen, it must be a unified effort by the student body. This is your chance to reverse a devastating trend that affects each and every student.

Eric Watkins is a former Student Service Fees Committee member.