Rounding up two student fees under review by USG

Although campaigns for Undergraduate Student Government elections won't begin until after spring break, USG representatives are on a different kind of campaign trail, presenting two student fees under review in a series of open forums and talks across all four campuses. 

The first is the student athletic fee, a mandatory $75-per-semester fee that was first enacted in 2014, and has seen a steady dose of contention ever since. According to its charter, the fee comes under review every two years.

The second is the student programming fee, which has been in place for several years at $25-per-semester, though requests by certain clubs and organizations for more funding resulted in USG proposing a $5 increase this semester. 

The USG senates will vote on these fees in the coming weeks. Their votes are dependent on the reactions the organization gauges from students, as made apparent through the outreach USG has conducted leading up to the votes. 

From there, the Associated Students of ASU Council of Presidents will vote according to the decisions of their respective senates, and then make a recommendation to the administration.

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The Student Athletic Fee

The Student Athletic Fee arose out of a need to create more transparency in how student funds were allocated to various programs, Tempe USG President Isaac Miller said.

Originally, parts of student tuition payments went toward ASU athletics and related events, instead of strictly for academic purposes, as many students may have expected.

Miller said creating a separate fee strictly to subsidize athletics frees up tuition monies for other purposes.

In presentations to students, Miller identified benefits of the fee as including pay raises for research and teaching assistants, free test prep for graduate students, intercampus shuttles, increased investment in financial aid and 25 percent of sporting venues reserved for students.

However, according to the athletics fee charter, the process is not quite that straightforward.

The athletics fee nets a per annum amount of $9 million, Miller said — not enough to directly pay for these services. 

That being said, subsidizing athletics allows the University to free up tuition funding to pay for things such as shuttles and TA/RA salaries. 

"The metaphor I use is that, we put one cookie in a jar, and we can take two cookies out of a different jar," Miller said. 

However, the fee has not been universally popular. 

Ryan Boyd, the vice president of policy for Undergraduate Student Government Downtown, said he joined USG in 2014 in response to what he felt was an unsatisfactory implementation of the athletic fee.

Initially, he said, the fee was pushed through without adequate time to conduct outreach or get student feedback, and with no posted description of the fee before the vote.

Additionally, Boyd said the fee — or the tuition reinvestment promised by the fee's charter — cannot deliver all it claims to, at least not at once.

The fee serves a good purpose in capping the amount of funds that can be used for athletics, but its implementation has treated some of the agreements outlined in the charter more as guidelines than contractual obligations, he said. 

"The clearest example of this would be the ticketing booth," Boyd said. 

According to the athletic fee charter, each campus is supposed to have equitable access to sporting events in the form of a ticketing booth. 

However, two years later, no such booth has appeared on any non-Tempe campus, though Boyd said the Downtown Phoenix campus is the only one that pushed for it.

He said the amount of seats reserved in stadiums sits at around 20 percent of the total, instead of the promised 25 percent.

He said he hopes the athletics department remembers the 25 percent they had promised when the fee comes under review.

The Student Programming Fee

The student programming fee does not have a built-in regular review process like the student athletic fee.

What has catapulted it back in front of the public eye after eight years is the possibility of adding $5 to the mandatory fee, bringing the total to $30-per-semester. 

The fee funds almost all student organizations and their events. It pays for the Childcare Subsidy program and individual travel funding, funds USG's lobbying with the administration, city and state and provides for events like Devilpalooza and the Fall Welcome concert. 

However, Miller said certain organizations, such as the Programming and Activities Board and Sun Devil Sports Clubs, have requested more funding.

PAB is planning more and better events, as well as more opportunities for students at the renovated football stadium, Miller said. 

Some students have protested the fee increase on principle — they would rather cut costs in other areas than raise costs at all, no matter how small the amount. 

"I totally understand where people are coming from there," Miller said.

In response, he points to the work USG is doing to advocate for increased higher education funding at the Capitol — work that requires funding from the student programming fee — resulting in a lower tuition. 

Yet some are displeased with the prospect of increased costs. 

"That's how education costs rise: a little bit at a time," said Kyle Cloud, an electrical engineering freshman who frequents USG meetings to voice his opinion on the two fees. 

Cloud said USG is looking for reasons to not raise the fee, instead of trying to prove why it is necessary to raise it. 

He said he feels the opposite should be the case, and the default should always be to try to keep the fee as it is. 

"We should be more concerned about being wrong in increasing the fee than in keeping it the same," he said. "The caution should be, what's going to happen when we raise the fee?"

If a fee increase has to happen, Cloud said clubs and organizations should have to appeal to the student body rather than USG to get funding.

"Some groups would be left without funding, but the ones that would have funding would be the most important to the student body," he said.

Related Links:

Tempe USG opposes controversial House bill that would allow concealed carry weapons on campus

USG-Tempe President Isaac Miller on his background, policy goals and the nature of leadership


Reach the reporter at Arren.Kimbel-Sannit@asu.edu or follow @akimbelsannit on Twitter.

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