Students target fees reforms

A group of campus leaders has identified issues with how fees are given out to campus groups.

by Haley Hansen

Some student leaders are concerned with how tens of millions of dollars in student services fees are doled out each year.

Now, they’re considering reforms to the practice in hopes of increasing groups’ accountability and ensuring that essential programs receive adequate funding. The changes they’re mulling over range from shifting which organizations receive fees funding to creating a system that more closely tracks student group spending.

Law School Student Senator Kyle Kroll helped create and administer a survey in January that gauged students’ thoughts on the effectiveness of the fees process.

More than 360 respondents, including members of the student body, student government and past Student Services Fees Committees, were asked about the type of programs funded by fees and how student groups spend their money.

Though the sample size was too small to represent the entire student body, the survey found that many supported a cap on student services fees and felt they shouldn’t be used for expenses like food at meetings, retreats and gifts.

Kroll is also working on a Student Senate resolution to revamp the process, which distributes tens of millions of dollars to more than 100 student groups and campus organizations each year.

He said there are issues with the system, like groups sending in inflated requests to receive higher recommendations, which need to be addressed to ensure that the funding is allocated properly.

The SSFC also needs to be more critical when it reviews requests, Kroll said.

“The fees committee needs to think more critically about whether certain things are important enough to be funded or if there are certain things that should be funded before others,” he said.

Council of Graduate Students President Andrew McNally said there should be more resources available to student groups so they can plan and operate their budgets.

The University currently offers student groups financial management training courses, and the student-led group U-Finance provides free assistance to groups.

Minnesota Student Association President Joelle Stangler said student groups aren’t held accountable enough in the way they actually spend their funding.

She said she’d like to plan for long-term and short-term changes and apply them to the process.

“There are a lot of other models that schools use that are much more effective and are better stewards of dollars,” Stangler said. “Whereas I think we spend a bit more liberally than is necessary.”

Next year, students could pay more than $30 more per semester for student services fees than the current rate.

But student groups fees committee chair Achintya Saurabh said it’s difficult to not raise the student services fee imposed on University students when there’s an increased need for student resources.

“The fundamental problem here is you can’t avoid [increases] when there’s a demand,” he said.

SSFC members reviewed the fees survey before completing their funding recommendations, Saurabh said, but he was concerned the report didn’t include enough participants to offer solid results.

Along with evaluating the student group side of the process, Stangler said, campus leaders need to reconsider what administrative units are funded.

Stangler said it may be a better option for fees that go toward vital administrative units like Boynton Health Services and the Aurora Center to be rolled into tuition expenses.

The Aurora Center was recommended only a portion of its fees request, which sought funds for a new male engagement coordinator staff position. Supporters of the center voiced concern over this initial allocation to the fees committee last week.

“Sexual assault survivors and victims don’t need to have the service that supports them have to fight for increased services,” Stangler said. “That’s something that should be decided at a higher level in the institution.”