Opinion: I will be voting “yes” on the student activity fee referendum, and you should too
A fee increase is a necessary investment in our community and does not detract from college affordability issues
What have been the highlights of your experience here at American University? Think about it. I doubt all that time spent going to class or laboring over essays comes readily to mind. More likely, your student experience has been accentuated by the times you shared with the friends that you have made here.
Our student organizations and on-campus programming have given me that sense of community, and they probably have for you as well. Consider all the friends you have made through student media, a political organization, a performing arts group, or a multicultural organization. Your experience has also been marked by hearing a speaker brought by KPU or enjoying one of the Student Union Board’s concerts. All of these activities and this programming come at a cost, and you might be surprised to learn that your tuition dollars do not cover those costs. Instead, these on-campus activities are provided for by the $88.50 per semester student activity fee, paid by all full-time students.
Last semester, the AUSG Undergraduate Senate voted to put a referendum on the ballot for the Fall 2018 Student Government elections. This referendum asks students whether or not they would support increasing the student activity fee by the marginal amount of $11.50 per semester. As a two-term Senator for the Class of 2020, I voted to give students a voice on this important issue. If this referendum passes, the Vice President of Campus Life Dr. Fanta Aw will recommend this student activity fee increase in her budget report to the Board of Trustees. Student leaders across campus are unanimous in their belief that that this recommendation is necessary, and we hope that students can overwhelmingly agree.
The current $88.50 per semester student activity fee was set at that amount in 2013. Consumer-price-index inflation increased by about 8 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that it costs more now for student organizations than it did in 2013 to offer the same level of programming. It is difficult for student organizations to continue hosting the same kind of events that they have been; they are forced to try doing more with less. If each student invested a little more in his or her on-campus experience, the overall pool of resources to be distributed amongst student media, clubs council, and student government would grow by about $150,000.
The $200 per year fee might sound like a lot, but it is actually a bargain compared to many other private universities. At Boston College, the student activity fee is $344 per year; at Tufts University, $368 per year; at Washington University in St. Louis, $524 per year; and at Syracuse University, $209 per year. Our marginally-increased student activity fee would especially be a bargain considering all that it goes to support. We have award-winning student publications. Our political and policy organizations have earned us our #1 most politically active student body ranking from The Princeton Review. Our Founder’s Day Ball annually hosts over 2,000 students in a premier DC location, and our Kennedy Political Union brings high government officials and other speakers to campus.
Some students are apprehensive about supporting this increase. However, voting “yes” on the referendum does not detract from valid concerns about college affordability or the way student money is handled. A recent article revealed that the cost of attendance at American University has increased by a whopping 10 percent since 2016. Fortunately, the Undergraduate Senate published a forty-page report regarding college affordability this past April. It was read by those at high levels of the university’s administration.
Additionally, many students, including myself, are frustrated with the mismanagement of student money. For example, no student has benefitted from the Student Involvement Fund, despite it being launched years ago. Furthermore, numerous students receive stipends without doing work commensurate with the stipend they receive.
However, these issues do not even compare to those surrounding AU Clubs Council. Every club leader knows that AUCC is opaque, bureaucratic and unaccountable. Even though its members oversee thousands of dollars in student money, they were not decided by and are not accountable to any students. Conversely, members of the Undergraduate Senate are elected, and our meetings are opened to the public. The Undergraduate Senate absorbing AUCC’s responsibilities is a reform that needs to be considered.
Nonetheless, student organizations are constrained with an antiquated activity fee that has not risen to provide consistent purchasing power. We need to invest in our student communities so that they may continue to flourish. Think of how many more college highlights you could have if our clubs could afford to do more. We have the opportunity to make our voice heard and clearly say that we want to amplify the student experience. This is why I will be voting “yes” on the referendum when AUSG voting opens on October 22nd. You should too.
Thomas Kenna is a junior in the School of International Service. He is also the Dean of the AUSG Undergraduate Senate and a Senator for the Class of 2020. They are an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.