By Katelyn Jacobson
City on a Hill Press Reporter
When the University of California started flailing, administrations didn’t find a government bailout waiting for them in the wings.
Instead, increases in student fees were called upon to compensate for plummeting state funding, and budgeting woes were handed off to students.
Effective last summer, the mandatory universitywide fees for resident undergraduates rose by $412, a 7.4 percent increase that brought the yearly UC Santa Cruz student bill to $9,244.11. About 21 percent of UC Santa Cruz’s budget, or $109 million a year, comes from these student fees, supplementing state support.
Dollar-by-dollar financial accounts are largely available online. Pie charts, bar graphs and reams of figures turn entire Web pages into blocks of numbers.
Even with these extensive numerations, the web of $109 million in student money still needs a lot of explaining.
The Educational Fee
Student (and parent-of-student) bank accounts are hit the hardest by the $6,262 UC educational fee, followed by $786 in registration fees.
Meredith Michaels, vice chancellor of budgets and planning for UCSC, deals directly with university finances. She explained that after mingling with other incomes such as application fees and non-resident tuition, these two fees are routed through the UC Office of the President.
“We get lots of different sources of money. We get state funds, we get fees that the students pay, we get UC general funds. … All of it goes to the Office of the President and they mix it together,” Michaels said. “All these things are referred to as general funds. They come back to the campus, there’s an allocation formula, and we are then given the money and told, ‘With this money, pay for your faculty, instruction, library, TAs, all different kinds of things.’”
The registration fee goes straight back to UCSC unscathed, designated solely for use by student services. The fate of the educational fee, however, is a bit different.
Michaels went on to reveal that a portion of the fee is taken off the top for the UC education abroad programs, and that a 2007 decision by the UC Regents sets aside 33 percent of the fee increases for student financial aid.
Additionally, in a recent press conference, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal told City on a Hill Press that the process of allocating the educational fee has left UCSC somewhat shortchanged.
“Of the non return-to-aid portion of fee increases, Santa Cruz campus gets back about 67 cents on the dollar,” Blumenthal said. “That is, if you pay a dollar for [educational] fees, 67 cents of it comes back for your educational experience.”
When asked if other campuses are getting back more then they’re paying, Blumenthal answered with a resounding “Yes.”
“That money is allocated out every year to the campuses by some complicated methodology,” Blumenthal explained. “We get on the order of 5 or 6 percent of all the state money and fee money that comes to the university. On the other hand, we have more than 7 percent of the students in the university system. So in other words, we’re not getting as much money per student as some of the other campuses.”
Blumenthal was adamant about working to get UCSC student fees back for students, and is confident that this battle can, and will, be won.
“What is particularly galling is that if there is a fee increase this year, that fee increase will go back to the campuses based upon their percentages of the total budget, not in terms of the percentage of the total number of students,” Blumenthal said. “That is a policy I would very much like to see changed.”
The Registration Fee and Measure 7
UCSC infrastructure gets its funding from two annual per-student fees: an $864 registration fee and the $153 Measure 7 fee. Together these raked in $15,672,479 for the 2008-09 school year.
The registration fee pays for a variety of programs within student affairs. Housing, dining, child-care services, the Career Center, and student judicial affairs are among them.
The fee is subject to increases. When a rash of preventable suicides swept the UC system in 2005, the Board of Regents increased registration fees by 7 percent in order to fund specific mental health initiatives. Another UCSC-specific increase, the Seismic Safety Fee, came in the winter of 2004 in response to a rash of earthquakes, and was created specifically to address any issues that might arise for campus buildings in the event of future earthquake occurrences.
“Many of these buildings need to be retrofitted, seismically updated and all those things,” said Felicia McGinty, chancellor of student affairs at UCSC. “That has to be done. But this fee is only on all the student buildings — OPERS, the Cantú Center. It’s not for the classrooms or things like that, as I understand it.”
Measure 7 funding often overlaps organizations covered by the registration fee, and was put in place to save student services after a round of past budget cuts left UCSC finances reeling. Students decided what programs would be saved, and the Student Fee Advisory Committee (SFAC), which reviews student fee spending and makes funding recommendations, was given purview over all measure spending.
In the past, SFAC answered only to McGinty, but Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger has recently been inserted into the chain of command. The two administrators together have the final say on whether SFAC’s recommendations are approved.
“I review their recommendations, I respect their work, and I would take their recommendations seriously,” McGinty said. “… They’re advisory. They don’t make the final decision, they recommend.”
A student input group like SFAC is guaranteed by Regent policy, a requirement that SFAC chair Matthew Payne views as necessary and indisputable.
“It is our money, and we are spending it, and we do spend it in order to come to the university,” Payne said. “This money specifically is for services for us, and we deserve a word in where that money should be going, because we know best what we want. Not someone else.”
On the heels of a Board of Regents decision to raise student fees by 7 percent, students voted to increase them again by $25.41 through a student referendum in the spring of 2008.
Of this money, $3.99 was set aside for the Global Information Internship Program, $12.42 for student media services, and $9 for a sustainability renovation of the UCSC health center.
Similar student-voted measures have been picking up the slack for the university and keeping programs alive in the face of budget cuts.
As of 2008-09, total yearly costs per student for these measures equaled $1,998.11. These fees directly supplement programs for which students showed support, such as athletics, theater arts, transportation and student government. These fees directly supplement programs for which students showed support, such as athletics, theater arts, transportation, and student government and cannot be diverted or cut.
“Those fees were voted in by the students for specific reasons,” Payne said. “So [SFAC doesn’t] really have any say over them. We just review them.”
Students are an integral part of student fees, a designation that SFAC and various student governments are trying to keep by involving students beyond the point where their money changes hands.
As chairman of the Student Union Assembly (SUA), Kalwis Lo saw about $292,000 pass through his hands during the 2007-08 school year, courtesy of a $10-per-year fee. He also saw how campus programs put this money to use.
“Our student government sets aside money to fund student groups who host events that benefit the student body,” Lo said. “The money is used to educate, inform, and train students to work and address issues that the larger student body [faces].”
Currently, UCSC has the most student-voted measures of all of the UCs, a distinction that McGinty has asked SFAC to look into. Thus, all referenda will be examined for efficiency, and those without a “sunset clause,” or a scheduled expiration date, will be checked to determine whether they are still beneficial to students.
In the present economy and with the current state of the California budget, McGinty said that many programs are under careful examination for effectiveness.
“Of those things on the books that we’re collecting money for, does it still make sense? Is there still a need for it?” McGinty said, giving examples of some of the questions she has to ask when looking at the university budget. “For example, has technology transformed the need for something?”
Payne gave one example of a fee that could go under the knife.
“Maybe the class scheduling fee?” Payne said. “Maybe it pays for the paper schedules? I don’t know what that’s for, so we’re looking into it.”
Although the UC Regents can, in theory, reach in and change referenda language and objectives, Payne said that the power to actually change them rests mainly with students.
“We’re looking at the [referendum-instated] fees and we’re making sure that they’re using them as they’re supposed to be used,” Payne said. “What’s going to happen is that we’re going to ask students to vote them lower for a couple years, or ask students to say, ‘Hey, vote this out because it’s no longer being used or being useful to us.’”
The UC systemwide budget is currently at $3 billion.
University administrators are the deciding factor when it comes to how this huge sum of money is spent, and a dwindling budget is creating some tough decisions for 2009.
“The first thing we look at is what things are core,” McGinty said. “Like, ‘What can’t we do without?’ The university is about teaching and learning, so we have to provide the classes, we have to educate students. We ask, ‘What services do we absolutely have to provide?’ and then, ‘What services are nice to provide, if we have the money?’”
Monetary survival for all of the UC campuses has become based on how much excess can be trimmed by an organization. Ultimately, though, only so much can be chiseled away before services come crashing down.
Twenty years of experiencing administrative cuts has left Student Media Adviser Marlene Olsen with concerns about campus infrastructure, after seeing an alarming decrease of services and capabilities due to lack of funding.
“The infrastructure used to be on timbers, and now it’s on toothpicks,” Olsen said. “It’s a question of how long it will hold up.”
Olsen stressed how important it is for students to be informed about what the university is becoming, because in the end, their money will be funding future evolution; students come and go, but student money shapes UCSC for the next generation.
“I think it’s important for students to understand where the money comes from and how the decisions are made about it, and to become educated,” Olsen said. “That way they can decide whether to question what’s being done with it. Ultimately it is students’ responsibility here on campus to understand what’s going on with the budgets, and to make decisions on whether or not they’re being handled appropriately.”
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