THE GOOD ONE: WHY SA RAISED THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE
On Wednesday, November 30th, the Student Association Senate voted to raise the Student Activity Fee from $100 per semester to $110. Students have the right to know the rationale behind any and all fee or tuition changes on campus, and as a co-sponsor of the bill that raised the fee, I want to do my part to explain to the members of the Student Association why your elected representatives in the Senate took this course of action.
First, I’d like to make it clear that myself, and the Senate at large, are committed to keeping the cost of attendance at UAlbany to the lowest it can possibly be, while providing the best education and college experience possible. We broadly stand against unnecessary fee and tuition increases which add to an already critical student debt crisis in the United States, and make it more difficult for middle and lower income students to go to college.
When UAlbany students or parents log onto E-Pay, they are confronted with a laundry list of fees: the $270.50 Intercollegiate Athletic Fee, the $608.00 Comprehensive Services Fee, the $112.50 Academic Excellence Fee, and, somewhere on the list, the $100.00 Student Activity Fee.
Financially overburdened students can easily be forgiven for becoming fed up with their swollen fee obligations. I’m fed up too. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the services provided by these fees, especially when some have such bureaucratic monikers. There are strong arguments to suggest that many students don’t directly benefit from many of these fees, but there is one fee that students unequivocally do directly benefit from. This is the Student Activity Fee.
The Student Activity Fee is the principle source of revenue for the Student Association (SA), your elected student government. The Student Activity Fee funds way over one hundred student groups –including Five Quad and Middle Earth– Speaker Series, Parkfest, Student Legal Services, and Dippikill- a thousand acre wilderness retreat open only to UAlbany students, alumni, and faculty.
The money generated by the Student Activity Fee directly benefits students in a way no other fee does, and the Student Association takes its role as the custodian of that money very seriously. The Student Association presents a balanced budget every single year and is audited by an independent firm on an annual basis. Each February, student groups must submit a budget packet not only requesting an allotment for the following year, but also detailing how each dollar will be spent. The Board of Finance –of which I serve as Chair—reviews these budget packets and internal funding requests, with an eye towards fiscal responsibility, and presents a complete budget to the Senate.
SUNY Guidelines allow the student government at each campus to set its own Student Activity Fee. Of the ten largest SUNY schools, only one has a lower Student Activity Fee than we do, and it’s only 50 cents less. Now this is not an automatic reason to raise the fee, if SA could continue to thrive with a $100 Student Activity Fee, I never would’ve signed on to a bill seeking to raise it. Furthermore, a Student Activity Fee raise should be treated by any campus as a last resort, with a preference given to internal cuts to remain fiscally responsible.
However, changing circumstances have made it so that a raise in the Student Activity Fee is the only realistic way that the Student Association can continue to meet the needs of the UAlbany Student body. In 2015, 88 student groups requested funding in the annual process I outlined earlier. This past spring, 125 student groups requested funding. In order to fairly allocate the same amount of money to many more groups, last year’s Board of Finance had to create arbitrary and harsh across the board cuts to student requests. Many student group leaders came forward to reasonably complain about the cuts, only to be told that their appeals could not realistically be met with current funding.
The solvency issue of last year has only compounded this semester. Dozens of new groups are on track to be eligible for funding this spring, meaning that more harsh across the board cuts would’ve been likely in this year’s budget process. It’s not only student groups that are suffering due to SA funding constraints. One of the most popular SA functions for the student body is Parkfest, our annual spring concert. Students over the past few years have complained about the limited number of tickets available for Parkfest, which has led to an unsanctioned black market developing on social media each spring, with students selling free tickets for cash. Students have also complained about the seeming low caliber of artists brought to campus as of late, and the lack of genre diversity in performances.
It is good that new student groups are being created at an unprecedented rate. It is good that existing groups are also expanding at an unprecedented rate. It is good that interest in Parkfest and other SA programming also continues to grow each year. However, we need to give ourselves the necessary resources to succeed, and it has become simply impossible for SA to serve students effectively with a $100 Student Activity Fee.
That is why I co-sponsored, and two-thirds of my Senate colleagues supported, raising the Student Activity Fee $10 a semester, putting us in a league with Oneonta, Oswego, Fredonia, Purchase, and Cortland, all of which have fees between $109 and $113 dollars. The added $260,000 in revenue that will be generated each year will help us eliminate the funding shortfall with student groups. It will allow SA to not have to institute arbitrary across the board cuts during budgeting. It will allow us to seek out a larger venue for Parkfest, which will allow more students to be a part of SA’s premier event. It will allow us to bring higher quality and more diverse artists to campus, which will meet the varied interests of the UAlbany student body. Each
student putting just a little more skin in the game will allow us to do so much more as an organization and as a student body.
If you have any questions about the Student Activity Fee, or SA and what it does at large, I will personally make time to meet with you. I can be found in the SA office –Campus Center 116– most days between 1 and 4. Please also feel free to reach out to your senators, who are a wealth of information and always appreciate your input on important matters.
The Student Activity Fee is the good one. It, in ways no other charge does, directly benefits the experience of so many students on this campus. The added revenue this increase will generate will have a profound impact on so many students in the years to come. This necessary step will allow SA to continue to evolve to meet the growing and changing needs of the students we are here to serve.