Saturday, July 12, 2008

Facilitating a Facilities Fee at Penn State

The Penn State Board of Trustees met yesterday in Erie at Penn State Berhend and the big story was yet another tuition increase. Less noticed was the vote to institute facilities fees at some of the branch campuses.
...[A] Student Facilities Fee will be implemented for 2008-09. The per semester fee will be $100 at Abington, Beaver, Berks, Erie, Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg and Mont Alto; $75 at Lehigh Valley; and $50 at Altoona, Brandywine, DuBois, Fayette, New Kensington, Schuylkill, University Park, Wilkes-Barre, Worthington Scranton and York. No facilities fee will be charged at Dickinson at Carlisle, Penn State Great Valley, Hazleton, Shenango and the College of Medicine.

I've blogged quite a bit about this fee since its possibility first became public back in March of this year.

While Graham pretended to take into consideration student opinion on the fee, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted in favor of the fee at University Park upon Graham's recommendation although the University Park Undergraduate Association [UPUA] had objected to it. In justifying the fee, Graham had portrayed the student opinion on the fee as mixed based on support for the fee from the Graduate Student Association [GSA] and the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments [CCSG]. The Student Activity Fee Board made no recommendation.

Was the support genuinely mixed or did Old Main manipulate the process to assure some agreement from students?

Most grad students get tuition waivers. Hence raising this fee will have minimal impact on the general grad student population. It's hard to say why the GSA opinion was even considered. Oh never mind, that's the point. They get the new and improved(?) facilities without the cash outlay. Why not vote in favor?

At the branch campuses, it was promised that the fees would be set locally.
Allocation committees at Commonwealth Campuses, on the other hand, can choose to charge students $50, $75 or $100 per semester for the facilities portion of the fee or decide to waive the facilities portion entirely, Latta said.
The CCSG may have supported the idea of a facility fee because the allocation committees at the Commonwealth Campuses consisit primary of students and they are chaired by the president of the local student government. However, after the Trustees voted in May to implement the fee at University Park, it was announced, without any fanfare, that it would be the Chancellors of each campus that would set the fee.
Students at Commonwealth Campuses will pay between $0 and $100 per semester, depending on the recommendation of their campus chancellor.
I wonder if CCSG feels used.

While I've previously written that CCSG was likely manipulated to give Graham cover for pushing this fee forward, I did get one thing wrong. I didn't think the Commonwealth Campuses would put any fee into place.

A final note. There is evidence that some faculty suspect that Old Main is being dishonest in the way that student fees are being justified. This is from a 2006 Senate Council meeting minutes.

Penn State’s Student Activity Fee.; The discussion of this report began with several members of Council noting that this was an important report as it contains many sensitive and political issues. The Senate Chair noted that some faculty have voiced concern about changes in the allocation process for student activity fees and thus, she supported this report moving forward. Other Councilors did not see as compelling a need for this report in its current form to be placed on the Agenda.

Councilors asked to have the names/titles of the Student Programming Board Work Group included in the report, as well as information on the composition of the Funding Allocation Board (FAB) including the names and positions of members, and if members are elected or appointed, and if the latter, by whom.

Other requests for clarification included, providing the actual number of students who supported an activity fee increase in the Fall 2004 Penn State Pulse survey (See page 3, Assessment Findings). Another Councilor asked to see how the questions were framed in the survey.;

In the section titled, Student Activity Fee Rates (page 2) a Councilor observed the second sentence was vague and non-specific, i.e., who are the student leaders supporting a “significantly higher student activity fee rate for all campuses.

Other comments asked for greater clarity and transparency in the description of the new allocation process, including who are the decision makers; how does the process work on the campuses; what are the major changes in the funding process; and what groups are receiving funding. At this point in the meeting, several Councilors observed that the report should be returned to the Student Life Committee for revision.
The Tormey/Gouran motion to place this report on the agenda was defeated. Chair Holen will provide feedback on the Senate Council discussion to the Student Life Committee for possible resubmission of the report.

The report was blocked. So it isn't only CCSG, Graham has enablers on the faculty as well.

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