Some fees worth increasing, despite burden of Regents’ fee

Tech equals a great education. Not only for the numerous benefits a degree will yield upon graduating, but also for the privileges students enjoy while in school. Tech strives to solicit solutions and ideas from its truly gifted student body to solve institute-wide problems. In the levying of student fees, Tech is no different. The Mandatory Student Fee Advisory Committee is tasked with forming a recommendation each spring to the President as to how the five fees should be modified on behalf of students and the rest of the Tech community. Deciding how much of students’ money will be spent, and on what, is one of the most sobering duties student leaders have.

The Board of Regents rocked the student body last April with its decision to increase the Special Institutional Fee by $350 per semester to a total of $544 per semester. The climate surrounding student fees could not be more tense as students struggle to find a way to fund this added burden. For graduate students, the effect was a pay cut. Clearly, any recommendation to self-impose a fee increase must come with a concrete need. This year, above all others, the committee’s responsibility to thoroughly investigate the need for fee increases would be all the more important. I firmly believe that’s exactly what we did. Only two fees were recommended for an increase and were done so for a total increase of $11 per semester, one of the lowest proposed increases in years.

The Health Fee was recommended to be increased by $6 per semester to offset increased Institute Overhead charges and changes to Board of Regents policy on employee benefits. Institute Overhead is charged for centralized Tech services that the Health Center utilizes at no direct cost. Unfortunately, Institute Overhead was instituted in FY2010 to be phased in over multiple years. This year is the fourth year of consecutive overhead increases which are passed on directly to students through fee increases. This is yet another way of billing students through fees for things that traditionally were handled via tuition revenue. Aside from this, in order to prevent employees from leaving the health center for jobs with benefits, workloads had to be increased to meet the minimum requirement set by the Board of Regents to remain eligible.

The Transportation Fee was recommended to be increased by $5 per semester to meet increased contractual costs ($3 per semester) to maintain services at their current level. The other $2 per semester were added due to recent concerns about campus safety and the need for a more robust late-night bus service. An additional bus will be added to the Midnight Rambler route to cut wait times between buses in half (from 30 to 15 minutes).

The committee also recommended maintaining the Athletic Fee at its current level despite an increase request of $5 per semester. Proponents cited rising costs due to tuition and fee increases for athletes, but why should students who are currently struggling to pay their own fees have to pay more to cover athletes’ fees?

I’d like to close with a serious reminder that the fee process we are privileged with here at Tech is undermined every time the Board of Regents institutes a modification of the SIF without soliciting input from committees such as Tech’s MSFAC or students in general. It’s clear to see that the process we hold so dear to debate $6 here or $5 there is rendered mute by their insistence that the SIF is the answer to decreased state funding and lottery revenues. I can tell you it’s not the answer and it isn’t the only solution to the problem. A better solution would be to expend some political capital and fuel the economic engine of the state by increasing Tech’s state appropriation. The general public complains about increasing tuition, but schools are forced to do so by the decisions of the very people they vote into the state legislature when cuts to state appropriations for education are made. There is a better way. Maybe it’ll just take more Tech grads in government positions to figure it out.