Student fee continues to rise from SFAC

By Andrew Nowak

In this past election season, students overwhelmingly passed a bike fee measure for coming school year. 

The fee is a $1 increase per semester that contributes to all things bike-related on campus: new bike racks, repainting and improved maintenance to bike lanes, among other improvements. The Student Fee Advisory Committee will meet in the coming weeks to consider the recommendations on the fee before forwarding it to the Chancellor. 


What is the SFAC?

The purpose of SFAC is to provide oversight on student initiated fees, first when they are approved by the student body in a referendum and then regularly after the fees are established.

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The voting portion of the committee is composed of one staff member appointed by the vice chancellor and 10 students. All of the student members are nominated by the Illinois Student Senate. Non-voting members of the committee include the Treasurer of the Illinois Student Senate and Ed Slazinik, chairman, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and director of auxiliary services. 

Mitch Dickey, president of ISS, has been one of the undergraduates on the committee for the past two years.

“The committee takes votes on all of the fees,” Dickey said. “On whether or not to increase, decrease, or stay the same, and we incorporate that, with a lot of the comment, into a report for the vice chancellor for student affairs.”

The feedback from SFAC and Slazinik is then passed on to the chancellor, who then either accepts the SFAC recommendations or makes his or her own recommendation. The chancellor passes their recommendations on to the Board of Trustees, who have the authority to ultimately decide on all aspects of the fee. 

“So we are the very bottom rung of that, and we start the process at the very beginning of the semester,” Dickey said. 

Slazinik said the student-initiated fees that students vote in favor of in referendums usually pass in some form.

“Typically the campus has followed through on the fees, as far as I know,” Slazinik said. “They may not always agree with the prescribed administration or certain elements of it, but typically it has resulted in a fee being assessed to students.”

Slazinik said the most recent example of a fee being altered after the referendum was passed by the student body was the media fee, which helps fund Illini Media Company. The SFAC recommended the fee be lower than the $3 that was originally proposed, and the Chancellor and Board of Trustees agreed and made the fee $1.85. 

SFAC provides oversight for all existing student-initiated fees by reviewing them every four years in groupings staggered by year.

When the fee committee reviews these fees, Slazinik said they typically require whoever is responsible for administering the fee to show “how they are spending the money, what the original referendum was and how that relates to the intent of the referendum.”  


Changes to the Process

Shawn Gordon, a third-year PhD student and chair of the Campus Student Election Commission since October, said the referendums will look different on the spring ballot. 

“Starting with this spring, the CSEC will be providing an argument in favor and argument against any fee question based on a summary put together by the Student Fee Advisory Committee,” Gordon said.

The SFAC pros and cons format received the recommendation of ISS.

Dickey said SFAC should make sure these proposed fees are well thought out in how they would be implemented, prior to the referendum going up for vote. 

“Something that was really, really clarified with this bike fee referendum was that we do not do a good job of making sure that there is any kind of logistic or structure for a fee that is set before the fee actually goes up,” Dickey said. 

Gordon said that any student or group of students can propose a referendum. After a review by the CSEC, those bringing the referendum forward need seven percent of the student body or five percent of the student body, along with an endorsement from ISS, to be put on the ballot. 

Dickey said he doesn’t want fees on fall ballots because most fees are voted on in the spring. Slazinik said there is less student turnout for fall elections, so removing the fees from the fall ballots would get more students to vote on those fees. 


The Student Fee in Recent Years

Previously, students could opt out of these fees, however, by spring 2012 students no longer had that option. Slazinik believes this is because too many students were choosing not to support the fees and the University could not keep the students who opted out from benefiting from those services. 

“Students had the option of paying or not paying that fee. As a number of fees increased, of course, that got a lot more complicated. And as the cost of tuition continued to grow, what we were seeing was there was an increasing number of students opting out of paying it,” he said.

Due to this difficulty, the fees were eventually reformed into student-initiated fees.

In the past 11 years, six of the 10 existing student-initiated fees were created. The most recent student-initiated fee approved was the media fee, which students voted in favor of in spring 2012. 

Besides the media fee, the other fees created in the past 11 years are: collegiate readership, study abroad and travel scholarship, sustainable campus environment, cleaner energy technologies and cultural programming. 

“When you start initiating new fees, like the bike fee, the problem is when mom and dad get the bill, it is like, you know, ‘We’re paying a lot of money to send you to school here, and on top of that we are getting nickel and dimed for everything,’” said Slazinik. “So I think there is some concern that this is kind of getting out of hand.” 

Andrew can be reached at [email protected].