Where does the money go?: An in-depth look at required campus fees

By Michael P Garrett

Every semester, when it comes time to pay tuition, my dad jokingly replaces the K in KU with Fee. I always thought his clever catch phrase “FeeU” was funny and as it turns out it rings pretty true. As students of the University of Kansas, we get feed for all sorts of things, such as technology fees, course fees, optional fees and required campus fees. At the beginning of the fall 2013 semester, the University Daily Kansan ran a graphic breaking down the Required Campus Fee. That graphic was the inspiration for this story.

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$441.05 can go a long way. For many students, that’s rent and groceries for a month. Others that could cover the cost of a fun spring break trip to Gulf Shores or help someone buy a plane ticket to go home and see their family for the holidays.

$441.05 is also the amount of money students at the University of Kansas pay each semester for something called the Required Campus Fee.

Whether you agree with paying this fee or not, or are even aware you pay it, all students are required to pay the $441.05 each semester in order to be a student at KU.

So what is the Required Campus Fee anyway? Who takes this money and what do I get out of it?

Essentially this is how it works. When a student pays the Required Campus Fee, their money gets thrown into a huge pot. From that pot, Student Senate distributes the money to different services and organizations around campus. These services and organizations include funding for things such as Watkins Health Center, Student Union Activities, student legal services, campus transportation services and many more.

This type of fee isn’t unique to KU. Kansas State University, for example, has something called a Privilege Fee. This fee funds services at Kansas State that are similar to KU, such as the health center, recreation center, the student union and many more.

According to their website, Kansas State’s Privilege Fee costs $378, which is $63.05 less than KU’s. Cody Kennedy, the Treasurer for the Student Governing Association of Kansas State, said a large contributor to the difference has to do with busing. Kansas State doesn’t have a campus-wide busing system like KU. Transportation and busing at KU costs $89.80 per student.

Any KU or KSU student, as a result of these fees, can use all of the services benefited by the fee free of charge. Well, sort of. These services are a benefit of going to KU and KSU and are funded by each and every student.

The concept sounds great, but it begs the question, what if I don’t use these services?

Chris Roholt, a senior from Hays, Kan., thinks requiring students to pay for service they don’t want or need is unfair.

“It’s money I could use elsewhere for stuff I actually use,” Roholt said.

Roholt suggested instead of making one flat fee all students are required to pay, KU should create an opt-in system. This system would function very similarly to the optional campus fee system that is already in place. When students sign up for the All Sports Combo, they navigate an optional campus fees page. This page allows students to select paying fees that will directly benefit them.

Under an opt-in system, KU students would be able to decide whether they wanted to pay to use Watkins or ride the busses, rather than forcing everyone to pay under a flat fee.

“The people that want it should have the option of paying for it,” Roholt said. “The people that don’t shouldn’t have to pay.”

Seems pretty reasonable, considering more than half of KU students don’t utilize all of the services benefitted by the Required Campus Fee. Of all the places student fee money goes, Student Senate estimates Hilltop Childcare and legal services are the least used amenities by students.

But what would happen to organizations that received a solid chunk of funding from this fee if students don’t elect to fund them under an optional fee system?

Student Union Activities is one of the largest organizations on campus. Each semester SUA hosts approximately 70 events, which hosts an estimated average of 400 students. Some events, such as the Rock Chalk Block Party, even host upwards of 5,000 students.

Each semester, SUA receives $135,000 from the Required Campus Fee. SUA uses this money to put on shows and events for the student body. In a year, SUA receives $270,000 from student fees, which makes up 79 percent of their budget. The rest of the budget is made up from things such as sponsorships and ticket sales. Here is a chart that illustrates SUA’s budget:

SUA Graph

Margaret Hair, program coordinator for the Union Programs Office and an SUA advisor, said if SUA had to rely solely on ticket sales and sponsorships, the organization would be in trouble. According to Hair, without the fee money SUA receives it would be difficult to put on a show to sell tickets.

“You don’t earn the income if you don’t have the capital to put on the events,” Hair said.

Each year, SUA also receives $50,000 from the Kansas Memorial Unions each semester. This money acts as a reserve and is only used once all of the money from student fees is used.

According to Jason Fried, the Vice President of Administration in charge of finances for SUA, there are restrictions on where student fee money received from Student Senate can be spent.

“We use every bit of the (student fee) money until it’s gone and then we tap into the Memorial Unions fund,” Fried said. “Senate money has to go to events.”

Of the $441.05 students spend on the Required Campus Fee, only $5 from each student helps fund SUA. A large amount of SUA’s budget is dependent upon 1.1 percent of this fee.

“If you have gone to one SUA event, it’s already paid for itself,” Fried said.

Other campus amenities take a much larger chunk of the $441.05 each student pays per semester. Watkins Health Center, for example, receives $134.70 per student. This totals to approximately $3,636,900 per semester in revenue as a result of student fees.

Natalie Scott, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences senior senator, said student fees are necessary, especially as state funding continues to be cut.

“Since state funding is decreasing, you can’t negate student fees,” Scott said. “If we’re not getting that money from student fees, we’re not going to get it from anywhere else.”

Michelle Compton the Assistant Director of Student Development and Events for Union Programs said college is supposed to prepare students for the real world. According to Compton, student fees that benefit the KU community as a whole, even if you don’t directly benefit from them, is almost like paying taxes. She gave the example of having a daycare on campus.

“Having day care, for example, draws better faculty,” Compton said. “Better faculty means students are getting a better education. It’s a ripple effect and everyone benefits.”

Besides working for KU, Compton is also a graduate student, which means she too has to pay the Required Campus Fee.

Other students also appreciate the services the fee provides and don’t mind paying. Addison Keegan-Harris, a senior from Topeka, thinks these fees benefit the greater good. However, she said the allocation of fees shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“I think student fees are necessary and I support paying them,” Keegan-Harris said. “I just think student fees need to be evaluated with a critical eye so students are paying for things they actually utilize and money is going to services that really need the funding.”

Critical thinking is just what Student Senate intends to do. According to Michael Graham Student Senate Treasurer, Senate plans to review the allocation of the Required Campus Fee in Feb. Graham said Senate will be looking at areas to cut and areas to increase spending as needed.

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