Senate has recently voted to add a referendum to the Spring 2015 election ballot — to raise the Student Activity Fee from $97 per semester to $112 per semester. Students will have the opportunity to approve or deny this referendum during Elections Week, Apr. 10 through Apr. 16.
The unanimous vote to add this to the ballot was motivated by several budgetary changes that USF has experienced this year. The first change to take effect would impact funded accounts, or accounts that are managed and funded by Senate and the Student Activity Fee, in the payment method of their executive student members. After the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, Senate was required by the government to pay these officials on an hourly basis, as opposed to what was historically a stipend payment. For example, the Foghorn is a funded account, and editors for the newspaper are paid minimum wage for a fixed number of hours every week. Before the switch to the hourly payment method, editors were paid a fixed stipend at the end of each semester. After the switch was implemented this year, Senate realized that they required far more funds to pay these executive members for their hourly work, and the new Student Activity Fee price is intended to cover the difference.
There is also the matter of increased student organizations. According to Carla Christensen, Assistant Director for Student Organizations, “The Student Activity fee funds many opportunities for involvement on campus. Part of its purpose is to provide support and funding for all student organizations.” Student Leadership and Engagement is in the process of approving 18 new student organizations, which would bring USF to a total of 124 student organizations.
It is important to keep in mind that these organizations are not funded accounts; funded accounts have paid executives, and have substantially larger budgets that are covered by the Student Activity Fee. These other organizations, classified by “Gold” and “Green” have varying access to Student Activity Fee funds.
Nick Wu, Senate Vice President of Finance, defined gold student organizations as student groups that can request funding throughout the year (meaning they do not have to request a set budget the year before like funded accounts) for travel funding, internal development, and even funding. Gold organizations on campus include Greek Organizations, and Cultural Organizations such as Kasamahan.
There are significantly fewer green organizations at USF, as they only receive internal development funding, for items such as office materials. Such organizations include the Japan Club and the Environmental Justice and Outdoors Club. The Student Activity Fee would continue to fund these requests for the existing student organizations, and if it is increased, will also fund the organizations that are on their way to being approved.
If students decide to pass the referendum raising the Student Activity Fee during Spring elections, the recommended fee will be moved on to the administration. After administrative approval, it will then move on to the Board of Trustees in Fall 2015, and if approved, will be implemented in the 2016-17 Academic Year. Freshman Taylor Ingle agrees that the increase is necessary, and believes she will vote to pass the referendum: “I think it’s important to help student clubs with doing events that they could believe to be important.
If enough students vote against the increased Student Activity Fee, USF can expect a different outcome. Wu explained, “If they do not increase it, and continue to have the same amount of events and activities, the reserve funding will be exhausted. There will be less events that can be provided to students, or services being provided to students. The quality [of events] might decrease.”
For this reason, there would be another vote held within Senate that would attempt to place the same referendum on the Fall 2015 ballot. Essentially, if students vote against the referendum this Spring, they can expect to see it again in a couple of months.
Though sophomore Maya Alvarez believes she will vote in favor of the increase, she expresses her hesitation: “For us as students, who need to pay for tuition and all of these different costs that seem to keep raising and raising, it seems unfair for everything to be raised all the time. They didn’t give us enough warning [before we agreed to attend USF] that we would need to keep up with the raising costs.”
Low student turnout continues to be a problem in USF elections, and according to Wu there is currently only a 13 percent student voting rate. “That’s why I work on this referendum, I’m working on a campaign [posters] to show where the Student Activity Fee goes. If they [students] don’t understand what’s going on, they won’t have an interest to vote,” he said. Without a voter turnout representative of the entire student body, it will be impossible to have an accurate gauge of what the USF population wants to pay for the Student Activity Fee. “I don’t think it [the current student voting rate] can fully represent the student’s voice,” Wu added.
Whether the Student Activity Fee will continue to rise in the future is unclear. According to Wu, the largest variable is the amount of incoming students — while there are more students to pay the fee, there are also more students to serve through student organizations. The constantly increasing minimum wage is another factor. As the minimum wage for funded account executives increases so does the need for funds.
Christensen concludes, “I hope that students will vote to increase the student activity fee beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year. I think that if students understand how the student activity fee is used to enrich their experience at USF, they would be willing to support an increase of $15 per semester.”