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The spectrum of student fees - The Metropolitan

In Our December, 2017 Issue:

The spectrum of student fees

by

Student Senator Richard Ketelsen knew what he was getting into when he joined the student governing board. The job would mean hearing fellow students’ ideas—and complaints—about Metro State.

“I was a tutor before I became a senator, and I’ve found they are similar jobs. Students get stressed out—understandably. Part of being a tutor is both helping with homework and reassuring students as they deal with life and college stress,” said Ketelsen.

Common feedback he hears from students? The financial pressure of tuition and fees.

His first objective is to listen and understand student concerns. He and his fellow student senators are always looking for more ways to mitigate the cost of tuition and fees, he said. For example, in September, they voted to subsidize Metro Transit passes to reduce the impact of the parking fee on students who don’t drive to campus.

University administrators consult with the Student Senate on tuition and fees, per a Minnesota State system policy that recognizes the importance of student involvement in decision-making. To be most effective in that role, Ketelsen said the Student Senate needs to hear even more from the student body. He encourages students to share their ideas at an upcoming meeting or by emailing student.senate@metrostate.edu. “When any proposal to the Student Senate has a clear benefit to students, I’ve never seen it fail,” he said.

Ketelsen approached The Metropolitan to propose this special section explaining student fees. “I think we need to use numbers, facts and data to help students see their fees go to valuable services,” he said.

The Student Senate will have several vacancies in January, and he encourages interested students to apply via OrgSync. “You can make your ideas happen. That’s the beauty of the system,” he said.

Parking fee

The $12 per credit student parking fee pays for the maintenance and operation of the parking ramp on the St. Paul campus. The ramp and adjoining surface lot offer over 800 parking stalls. The facility was constructed in 2015 for $20 million through the sale of revenue bonds; the student parking fee also funds repayment of the bonds.

“We do have an expensive cost basis because it’s a brand new ramp,” said Bruce Biser, Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Vice President of Administrative Affairs. “But we have plenty of capacity in the ramp. We built to the city of St. Paul specifications for educational institutions—there was no give on that. Now we can host a lot of outside events because of the close-proximity parking.”

When the ramp was built, the Student Senate deliberated how to structure the parking fee. They recommended that all students should be charged the fee rather than just those who have in-person classes on campus.

“The parking fee generates $1.8 million to operate the ramp. If we were to exclude one-third of the university’s credits [online classes] from paying, then the fee for face-to-face classes would go way up to cover it,” said Biser.

The fee also contributes toward the cost of parking facilities at the Midway, Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park campuses. Per board policy, all users of parking facilities at Minnesota State universities and colleges must pay a fee; there is no maximum on parking fees.

Metro State employees and faculty who wish to park on campus also pay a parking fee. Community faculty members pay $12 per credit they teach. Full-time faculty and staff pay $18 per pay period.

Student Center fee

Like the parking ramp, the Student Center is a revenue fund building, meaning the construction was funded by the sale of revenue bonds [$11.7 million in 2013] and the facility must be self-supporting. The Student Center fee of $8.50 per credit (up to 16 credits) covers building maintenance, operations and renovations. The fee also funds custodial services, and personnel like the Student Life office coordinator and security guards.

The Student Center houses Alimama’s Grill, vending machines, lounge and study spaces, computers and printers, and a fitness center. Membership in the fitness center is free for students; employees pay $50 per year.

Projections show the Student Center fee will likely need to stay at its current level to cover facility costs, said CFO Biser. Once the bonds are paid off in thirty years, the building will have aged, and repair and replacement costs will rise.

Currently, the Student Center has approximately $575,000 in reserves, according to Phil Fuehrer, Interim Director of Student Life and Leadership Development. Reserves can pay for remodeling, such as the proposal in the campus space utilization study to move the bookstore from the Library to the Student Center.

Student center (or student union) fees at other Minnesota State universities range from $8.05 to $24.40 per credit.

Technology fee

The student technology fee of $7 per credit supplements the Information Technology Services (ITS) budget. It pays for computer labs, wireless networks, software, infrastructure and tech support. Students contribute $1.2 million to ITS’s yearly budget of $5 million, according to CFO Biser.

In fall 2017, the fee increased from $6 per credit. The Minnesota State maximum is $10 per credit.

“From a finance guy perspective, this is the hardest fee to explain,” said Biser. “It’s really hard to segregate what the student technology fee specifically goes to. But it contributes to ID cards. Student records housed in the cloud and databases. Course servers. D2L. Email. Student workers.”

ITS recently upgraded printers in campus computer labs. A new phone system will have targeted emergency alert capability. Poor wireless connectivity at the Midway campus will be addressed. All possible in part because of the student technology fee, Biser said. “We are going to continue to make significant investments in technology. Not only to maintain the services that students enjoy right now, but to improve them.”

Activity fee

The activity fee funds the Student Life and Leadership Development office and all student clubs and organizations. The fee (currently $4 per credit, up to 16 credits) is set by the Student Senate. It has not increased in more than decade, according to Phil Fuehrer, Interim Director of Student Life and Leadership Development.

A student at Metro State would pay a maximum of $64 per semester; the Minnesota State system sets a maximum of $112.50 per term for student activity fees. Metro State’s activity fee is the lowest among the Minnesota State universities when student athletic and event fees are included.

Metro State supports more than 40 student organizations. The Student Activity and Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC) hears budget proposals from student organizations in February every year and determines how much money each organization receives. Students may also petition SAFAC for funds to travel to and attend professional conferences. For more information about SAFAC, see orgsync.com/42562/chapter or email ActivityFees.StudentCommittee@metrostate.edu.

If a student organization doesn’t spend their allotted budget or a club goes dormant, the unspent amount reverts back to the Student Life reserves at the end of the fiscal year. There was $1.3 million in reserves at the end of 2017, according to Fuehrer. That fund has built up over 18 or 19 years, he said. Reserves can be spent at the discretion of the Student Senate to help prevent future fee increases or to go to one-time purchases like the subscription to OrgSync.

“The fee gets reviewed yearly. If at some point the reserve fund has bloated too much, a fee reduction could be in play,” Fuehrer said.

Students United fee

Students United is the nonprofit organization that advocates for campus, state and federal policies on behalf of students at the Minnesota State universities: Metro State, Bemidji, Mankato, Moorhead, St. Cloud, Southwest (Marshall) and Winona. The organization also administers scholarships, fellowships and awards for students.

Formerly known as the Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA), the organization has been active since 1967. Seven staff members at employed its office in St. Paul. The board of directors consists of the presidents of the student governing boards of each university.

The Minnesota State Board of Trustees sets the fee that supports Students United’s operations and staff. The fee is mandatory for all Minnesota State university students. It increased from $0.43 to $0.47 per credit in fall 2017. The last increase was 11 years ago. A university student—currently AbdulRahmane Abdul-Aziz of Minnesota State, Mankato— is a voting member of the Board of Trustees.

The financial policies of Students United are available online at studentsunited.org. To give feedback on the fee, students may contact the Metropolitan State Student Senate and the Minnesota State Board of Trustees.