Students facing a wave of changes in student fees

Student fees play a large and growing part in funding our education and the little extras of college life. Five separate fees currently cost more than $200 each semester. The Board of Trustees unilaterally approved new fees in recent years that have boosted our fee burden by a third. Fees currently pay for student health insurance and the McKinley Center, building maintenance, libraries, the IT system, campus bus service, the Assembly Hall, the Illini Union, debt payments, student organizations, sustainability projects, scholarships and many other things. Student fees have played a big part in insulating our university from a harsh economic climate and an unreliable and tenuous relationship to the state. There has been a lot of hubbub lately over the proposal to reinstate the $1-per-semester student government fee.

To not beat a dead horse, I’m going to talk about the two other fee-related referenda.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano is circling a petition to make the student-initiated refundable fees — the Sustainability, the Student Organization Resource Fee, Students for Equal Access to Learning Fee, Krannert, Cultural Programming, Study Abroad, Legacy Scholarship ­— non-refundable and slightly lower the amount of these fees from $63 to $51. The large and growing number of fee refunds has made budgeting uncertain for these units.

Refunding generally has created a vicious cycle where refunds have encouraged units to raise their fee, only to see more refunds. This proposal will effectively reduce the student fee burden for those who pay all their fees and greatly increase the fee burden for those who refund most or all of these fees. In addition, Romano also is proposing that all renewable fees be included in a different fee review process.

Currently, fees are required to be renewed by the student by a vote every three to four years. Under Romano’s proposal, these fees would be monitored by the Service Fee Advisory Committee, a committee of students that receives, edits and approves fee changes for about half of student fee burden.

As a graduating senior, I don’t really have a stake in either of these proposals; it is up to the students to decide their fates and worthiness. They are tiny drops in the larger fee bucket. However, it is important that students pay attention to their fees. Unlike tuition, which is guaranteed to stay the same for your undergraduate tenure here, fees take a larger chunk out of your bank accounts each year. Students can influence fee movements by applying to serve on the Service Fee Advisory Committee, the single greatest opportunity to affect fee rates. Other bodies include the Academic Facilities Maintenance Funding Assessment and Library/IT fee advisory committees, which monitor two of the largest fees on campus.

And, obviously, vote on Nov. 8 or 9 on the referendum questions because you should have a say in how you spend your money.

Peter Hughes, Chairman of the Subcommittee on University Budget, Tuition and Student Fees