By Kaylee Lindenmuth
Students could potentially see a new fee in the next year – a “student success fee,” intended to “maintain or enhance student academic support services, experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom, and other initiatives that contribute to student success.”
The fee and reasoning behind it were explained in a presentation during the Feb. 27 meeting of Student Government Board.
Assistant Vice President for Financial & Business Services Matt Delaney displayed a PowerPoint and described the budget philosophy of the university, previous trends, current conditions, and future projections, and possible options moving forward.
Delaney explained that the university splits funds between three major accounts, which he described as buckets: Education and General (E&G) for general and classroom costs, as well as the primary university budget; Restricted, grants and other funding that is granted with a specific purpose; and Auxiliary, which includes housing and dining services, among others.
Funds cannot move between the three major accounts but can move within them, according to Delaney.
Delaney described a trend dating back to 2010, in which the university had a $6M surplus and “high water mark” enrollment of 10,700, leading to the most recent numbers in which the university had a $6.7M deficit and “roughly” 8,300 enrollment.
Assuming the university sees a 1.1% tuition increase, 1.2% enrollment increase, and increases in state funding, the university would have a $5.1M deficit to tackle for the upcoming fiscal year, according to Delaney.
Delaney described three options for the university, base budget reductions, “something that we’ve done over the past five, six years, where we had the vice presidents all look at their divisional budgets, and identify areas where they could cut back;” Funds Revision, “or the use of cash reserves;” or a Student Success Fee, “A new fee assessed to students to cover existing services. The difference with this item is it’s a revenue generator.”
The PowerPoint presented described the fee as “an Education and General (E&G) fund fee (which) will be used to maintain or enhance student academic support services, experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom, and other initiatives that contribute to student success.” Examples of what it could cover were listed as retention programs, completion programs, tutoring, career development and career counseling, among others. The fee could range from $100 to $400 per semester for a full-time student or $8.33 to $33.33 per credit for a part-time student.
“If we don’t charge a fee like this, we have to look at reducing services across the university,” Delaney said.
According to Delaney’s PowerPoint, Kutztown charges the lowest in total fees in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
The floor opened to questions from SGB representatives, who expressed concerns that the fee could be used for anything marked “Education and General,” not just student success programs.
An unidentified SGB representative Asked if the money collected will be guaranteed to go towards student success programs, rather than other expenses, such as renovation projects.
“The intent of this fee is to provide funding for those areas that directly impact student success, provide services outside of the classroom to those students,” responded Delaney.
“It won’t be in a separate ‘bucket,’ it’ll be in that E&G ‘bucket,’ so no, I can’t say that every dollar of that fee will go to a specific office that does that. Just like tuition, not all of tuition goes to the classroom,” said Delaney.
“Why do you feel as though it is the student’s responsibility to pay more for something that is almost a budgeting issue, why do you feel to pay when you could trim the other areas?” asked Gabriella Sweet, an education representative.
“Keep in mind that we’ve been trimming in other areas for five or six years. We’ve really tried to keep the burden off of students, and we’ve avoided adding new fees and increasing things like this, so it really becomes a choice of, do we want to be able to provide the current level of services we’re providing, or do we want the lowest cost university? Right now, that’s what’s being discussed by the president, and the vice presidents to determine that balance,” said Delaney.
“So with the projected 1.2% increase in enrollment, and with the new strides that we’ve taken to try and create some recruiting and rebranding and things like that, have we at all thought about, since we are now seeing a possibility of a 1.2% increase in enrollment, and hopefully that continues to grow, have we thought about maybe tabling this for a couple years to see if that continues to grow, and maybe we can make the strides in that way, rather than just pushing it on the students, because I’m scared that just throwing another fee onto the students, it starts to go onto a slippery slope,” added Lucas Yerger, Education representative.
“So, keep in mind that the 1.2% increase in enrollment is already built into our projection, and we still have a five million dollar hole. So every one percent of enrollment growth gets us another million dollars, so we would need enrollment to go up five percent, five additional percentage points, just to balance that budget.” added Delaney.
“To me, I have a problem telling students that it should be okay to pay more when the student success fee isn’t necessarily going towards your success. It’s not guaranteed to go towards your success,” added Yerger.
Delaney cited other instances of campus resources that are not used by the full student body but are paid for through university wide student fees, such as the shuttle busses.
Gerald Silberman, Vice President for Administration and Finance, interjected, saying “We talked about actually associating the fee with particular expense items in the budget… We are talking about identifying specific departments, specific line items within those departments, and associating it with this fee, and checking every year that we spend at least that much on student success.”
The fee, as proposed would be a permanent added fee, which would be evaluated every year and will be presented to the board of trustees this month.
According to Delaney, six of the 14 PASSHE schools have a similar fee in place