Athletic fee re-investments positive despite questions of its legality

A University-wide “athletic fee” that require students pay an additional $150 per year appears to be accomplishing much of what it promised when it was originally passed.

The fee, which was officially passed in the spring 2014 semester, was developed in an effort to separate student contribution to athletics from overall tuition. Each student’s additional contribution of $75 per semester now re-invests about $10 million and sends it back into the budget, freeing up funds to support academic improvements and sending the fee money to athletics. According to University officials, the fee itself has raised approximately $9.7 million since its inception.

In general, the implementation of a new fee may come with a seemingly inherent tendency to assume distrust or deceit, especially when the conception of the fee itself is less than legal.

The State Press reported in November 2013 that Tempe Undergraduate Student Government broke its own bylaws by failing to make documents available and meeting times involving the athletic fee public, and may have violated Arizona state statute.

The report was released after all five student governments officially approved the fee in October 2013 and before ASU President Michael Crow and ABOR approved it just months later.

Students across all four campuses continue to have individualized qualms about the fee, but the State Press’ current research shows that at the very least, student governments and associated institutional constituents are working to accomplish the promises set forth in the bill.

So, what promises were made, and who is being affected?

Where your $150 is going

The revenue from the $75 per semester athletic fee, as its name implies, is going to Sun Devil Athletics. A lot of the fee money went to the establishment of a free ticketing system and the development of a specialized student section known as the “Inferno.”

Athletic development and funding proposals flow through the Sun Devil Athletics Operations Advisory Board, established by the athletic fee bill in order to serve as a “shared governance between ASASU and Sun Devil Athletics.”

The board is overseen by the council of presidents, including all USG presidents and ASASU. The board has two undergraduate, two graduate and two alumni representatives.

Rhian Stotts, a GPSA representative for Sun Devil Athletic Operations Board, said none of the fee money has been utilized in the major three phase renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. Rather, the first phase of the renovation was funded by $60 million in bonds and $5.7 million in private donations, the Arizona Republic reported in February. The renovation includes the implementation of a new “Double Inferno."

Stotts said the board also collects feedback on the plans regarding the Inferno section and is looking for new uses of the stadium outside of game days.

She added that part of the fee’s desired impact was an increase in overall game day attendance, which she confirmed they have been able to do. University officials reported that 2014 football season student attendance was up 20 percent from 2013 attendance.

The board is required to meet for an extensive review of all uses of fee money every two years. The first meeting is set to take place in the spring 2016 semester.

NewInfernoSection from The State Press on Vimeo.

What your re-invested tuition money is feeding

Tempe USG President Isaac Miller said he is not concerned that any major changes will have to take place after that first meeting.

“There’s so much that I’ve been impressed by at the administrative level through a commitment to actually making what students want to see, happen,” Miller said in a phone interview. “I don’t anticipate that anything drastic will change or stop.”

Miller was not only referring to uses of the fee itself, but to the various pipes through which students’ re-invested tuition money is now free to travel.

Student governments across all four campuses have teamed up with ASU’s department of educational outreach and student services to implement the various reinvestment goals and promises set forth by the bill.

Various student input committees have existed for several semesters in order to create open channels for opinionated communication from student stakeholders to USG and GPSA, as well as administrative representatives. The committees play many roles, one of which is serving as a mediator for the athletic fee through the Sun Devil Athletics Operations Board.

“University boards and committees provide avenues for students to provide input in a particular aspect,” Miller added. “We want make sure every group feels included and respected at ASU.”

Among the groups directly affected by the goals and funds established in the re-investment process are teaching assistants, veteran students, students with children and intercampus shuttle riders.

That being said, do these groups feel included and respected by the bill’s implementation?

Teaching assistants' pay increased

The bill said it aimed to create an “overall increase in stipends for Research Assistants and Teaching Assistants, while decreasing pay differentials between departments.” In other words, it hoped to increase all stipends for assistants working 20-hour weeks to a living minimum wage, and concurrently increase the pro-rated salaries of quarter-time workers by 25 percent.

This plan was anticipated to be phased in over multiple years, but has already met its goal of achieving the minimum stipend, Vice Provost of Graduate Education Andrew Webber said.

Webber said since the change’s implementation in fall 2014, teaching assistants across all four campuses are now making at least $14,900 a year for their services.

The State Press reported in September 2014 that some of ASU’s academic divisions were compensating TAs as little as $10,000 per academic year prior to this minimum stipend implementation.

According to data from ASU’s facts website, the total number of teaching assistants employed by the University increased by only two positions between 2013 and 2014, from 1,656 to 1,658.

The number of research assistants saw an increase of 303 between those same years, from 1,046 to 1,349. The total number of students enrolled in graduate programs increased by just over 1,100 between 2013 and 2014.

None of this data suggests that the number of teaching assistants employed corresponds in any manner to the amount of positions available. The bill also stated a desire to increase the number of TA and RA positions available, but whether this has actually happened remains largely unknown.

Benefit to Veteran's Services unclear

Patrick Gaines, president of the Student Veteran Association at ASU Tempe, said his association does not receive any additional funding as a result of the fee re-investment.

They do, however, work closely with student government to ensure that the organization receives adequate semesterly support and that any additional events put on by the association can be funded as well.

Gaines said he feels that if any additional funding is available to veteran services as a result of the fee, it would do well to be applied in the advising office, which plays a huge role in ensuring that student veterans receive funding and support.

“The financial picture (funding) is essentially something that’s make or break — it can be the difference between a student veteran graduating or having to drop out of school and work,” he said. 

Intercampus shuttle updates not reaping benefits of investment

According to a letter from ASU’s council of presidents, the “equitable transportation and commuting options across all locations of ASU seven days a week when classes are in session” referred to an effort to implement a weekend intercampus shuttle service, which has been in place since August 2014.

President Miller confirmed that the proposition for this increased service was passed through the parking and transit committee before its implementation.

However, a recent State Press article suggested that the true value of the service has not been reached yet, as overall ridership remains low and parking and transit services is re-evaluating the use of its funds on this program.

Cost per student for each shuttle ride | Create infographics

Parking and transit officials are still trying to figure out a way to strike a balance between the size of the equipment and the amount of riders, assistant director of commuter services JC Porter said in an interview with the State Press.

“‘Rightsizing’ is the word I’m looking for,” Porter said. “We want to rightsize. Not ‘let’s get a 65 passenger bus with only 3 people on it and call it good.’ We can rightsize it and make sure we’re getting the correct use of it.”

Total ridership for the 2014-15 school year | Create infographics

Journalism senior Kathryn Beck said she doesn't use the weekend shuttles herself, but sees the value in having them. 

"Some people might still want to use it instead of taking the light rail," she said. "The fact that the shuttle is free might appeal to people."

When asked what a better use for the excessive weekend shuttle funds might be, Beck suggested some of it be allocated into improving and maintaining weekday shuttles. 

Other notable impacts and the future of the fee

The letter from the Council of Presidents also explained its efforts to establish a subsidy program to support students with children in funding student's personal childcare costs.

With the help of Family Services, USG and GPSA are pulling funds from the fee together to implement the program, which will allow students to apply for $1,000 subsidies to support their childcare costs.

Revenues retained from the fee have also helped support graduate education. The implementation of a free graduate test prep program, for instance, has reaped solid results, drawing in more than 450 students since its inception in October 2014, according to university officials.

The results of the first Sun Devil Athletics Operations Advisory Board meeting next semester will dictate whether or not the fee and its re-investments will consistently provide positive and agreeable impacts to the University. 

Timeline of Athletic Fee Bill Events

Related Links:

Athletic fee money raises teaching assistants' pay

Athletic fee bill changes ASU football ticketing system

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