Students know little about fees

by Stephanie Kudrle

Every semester, students find fees on their tuition bills. Most of them – like Student Services Fees – are mandatory and non-refundable.

This year, thousands of University students will pay about $277 each semester in Student Services Fees that help fund student groups, campus organizations and facilities.

Although many do not know how the fees are used or who decides how they are distributed, the process of dividing the money has already started.

In the next four weeks, a committee will be formed to review applications from groups seeking funding for the 2003-04 school year. Final amounts will be determined in March and funds distributed in September.

Juniors Caron Peterson, Amy Jechort and Annika Swan said they pay the fees each semester without asking questions.

“I just wish we could choose what to put it towards,” Peterson said.

All three students said they did not know which student groups received funding or how much the fee was.

Student fees adviser Aaron Asmundson said a complete list of groups that receive fees is online and on students’ tuition bills.

But first-year student Steven Grootaert said he would like to see a clear list of the services the fees provide – not just a list of the groups.

“I know it goes towards Boynton, but that’s all I really know,” Grootaert said.

This year, student service money funds 34 organizations not financed by other fees, such as Boynton Health Service and student unions.

The amount of Student Services Fees also draws ire from some students. Postsecondary student Kaija Wuollet said tuition is high even without extra charges.

“Student organizations are getting a lot of money,” Wuollet said. “And I don’t see a lot of them doing things that are very worthwhile.”

In order to make sure fees are spent appropriately, groups are audited every other year and are required to document their spending when re-applying for fees, Asmundson said.

June Nobbe, director of student affairs, has worked with the fees process since the 1980s.

“The overall climate during the fees process is to try to hold fees to a reasonable level,” Nobbe said. “We’re not going to approve increasing fees above what tuition is increasing.”

While Nobbe said most students support mandatory service fees, students were not so sure.

First-year student Mike McGarthwaite said because he commutes to campus and does not use many services, the fees should be optional.

“I’m not on campus,” he said. “I can’t think of anything I use it for.”

But Nobbe said mandatory fees are necessary to reduce user fees at the recreation center and other places students use frequently.

“We could have students pay a lower mandatory fee,” she said. “But the cost for usage of services would go up.”

Nobbe also said students depend on a fixed amount in their bills each month and would be unable to budget their money for varying user fees each month.

Complicated process

Asmundson said the process for deciding which groups receive funding is complicated.

First, the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly appoint four fees selectors. MSA President Eric Dyer and GAPSA President Todd Powell each chose two selectors, and the other members of the groups approved those selectors at their respective meetings Nov. 4.

The selectors are reviewing fees committee applications, and they will appoint nine students to the positions by the end of fall semester.

Groups wanting fees money must submit applications for funding by Jan. 30. In February, the fees committee will review applications, and in March it will present a proposal to Jerry Rinehart, associate vice provost for student affairs.

Rinehart will then present a final proposal to the Board of Regents in May, and the board will vote on the Student Services Fees as part of the budget in June.

Asmundson said the fees committee should represent student interests. It holds three public hearings to ensure students can voice concerns.

“These groups should reach the most people as possible through programs, awareness and services,” Asmundson said.

Dyer said Student Services Fees were $280 last year but decreased $3 because the fees committee was more selective.

“There were some groups getting so much money and not doing anything for it,” he said. “We saved students three dollars.”

All groups that want fees money must apply each year, regardless of whether they received funding in the past. Two or three groups are denied funding each year, Asmundson said.

Nobbe said groups are usually denied funding because they do not provide enough documentation on the services they offer or they duplicate services provided by an existing group.

The graphic titled “Where’s My Money Going?” inconsistently spelled the name of Jerry Rinehart, associate vice provost for student affairs.