On Oct. 29, students attended a forum at the Student Union on proposed increases to mandatory student fees. A variety of departments on campus made their case for hikes to their respective fees, arguing that a combination of budget deficits and declines in student revenues justify modest changes.
Understandably, departments need to ask for increases to reach their proposed goals. The problem is that in many of these cases, the fees we pay as students are unjustified or too high in the very first place.
Take Parking Services, the first department that spoke at the forum, who is asking for a $6 dollar increase to the transportation fee. Though it’s important that shuttle services and the U-Pass remain operative, it’s unclear why asking for a higher fee is necessary. The parking passes Parking Services distributes are already grossly overpriced, and parking enforcement draws in big bucks each year. Perhaps it would be more responsible to redistribute the money they take in towards the services they need to continue funding, rather than continue increasing fees for students.
Student Activities also made their pitch for a $1.50 increase. Given that Student Activities already has the funds they need to meet their goals and hold events for students — as they admitted during the student forum — a fee increase would be a waste of student dollars.
The point is this: when budget cuts are hitting departments all across campus, the decision to increase fees should come down to whether or not those departments need an increase to function rather than an increase to improve already existing services.
Additionally, there’s plenty of fees we’re already paying that could be reduced or eliminated entirely. Student Government and Student Media, while important for facilitating an active campus climate, are taking in way more than they need to operate at a legitimate capacity. Encouraging student clubs to keep the university connected would go a long way towards doing the same, if not more, as both of these organizations.
Other fees are outright unnecessary. Items like the $8 dollar ePortfolio Services, the $3 dollar UAA Green Fee, and individual course labs should be an opt-in fees, especially when most students don’t utilize (in the case of (ePortfolio and labs) or benefit from (UAA Green Fee) the services in the first place.
To some degree, the student fee debate is similar to that of funding government services. If we made public education, infrastructure and government services an “opt-in” system, government would probably fall apart. But student fees are different in the sense that many services we pay for are not necessary for the basic needs of a student. It should not be the duty of UAA students to fork over money for things that are helpful but not essential to their education.
The unfairness of this is amplified by the fact that tuition and general education costs have already squeezed students’ pocketbooks since the Alaska state fiscal crisis began in 2013. Tuition hikes and student fee increases? That’s simply not fair.
Moreover, the fiscal crisis that’s put many of these departments in jeopardy is coming to an end. Oil prices are climbing again, meaning the Alaska State Legislature will have little need to slash university budgets again anytime soon. We should err on the side of preparedness but not by hiking our fees without a good justification.
Instead, we should talk about how we can restructure, reduce or even cut fees that contribute towards already high education costs for UAA students. Until then, there should be no talk of continuing to waste the dollars of already cash-strapped students.