I was tapped to write a few paragraphs on why fees at public universities should remain low, well lower. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had low fees.
It was tough to limit myself to 200 words as I can write much more from different perspectives: graduate student in higher education familiar with literature on affordability, accessibility, financial aid and diversity; former board member with the UC Student Association; former chair of the Council on Student Fees and UCLA Registration Fee Advisory Committee; and just plain person concerned about the future (ha!).
I kept my argument focused to concerns that UC is moving to a model similar to the University of Michigan or University of Virginia, two “public Ivies” that enroll only about two-thirds of their students from in-state and have a much lower proportion of low-income students (based on who gets Pell Grants).
I didn’t get into the discussion on why Californians should fund “UC’s gold-plated facilities — the UC Santa Cruz Pilates studio comes to mind.”
Oh, that red herring.
This comes up frequently in comments on public forums. When I read such comments, it’s pretty clear that the general populace simply doesn’t understand higher education finance.
It’s okay. Higher education scholars and administrators could do a better job of getting out the message that funding public higher education is good for the state. Still, it’s simple to do a little research and discover that such arguments are irrelevant to this discussion because state general funding does not fund pilates studios, recreational activities, student groups or even the cost of construction for non-educational related buildings.
That comes from other sources. UCLA (and the UC system as a whole) gets its funding from various sources. The state is just one (small) source.
According to the UCLA Annual Financial Report, state funding accounted for 37% of the university’s $458 million in revenues supporting core activities in fiscal year 1978-1979, but fell to only 16% on revenues of $4 billion in 2007-2008. Some estimates, in fact, put that figure as low as 13%. [How UCLA is funded FAQs]
Where does the rest come from?
Some of the largest sources include fees paid by medical center patients, research grants, sales (such as tickets to athletic events) and state funds, plus student fees and private gifts. It’s important to remember that many of these sources are restricted. For example, private gifts can be spent only for the purpose for which the donor intended, and revenues generated by the medical center and athletics are not available for general campus purposes. [Q&A with Steve Olsen on budget issues]
And fees. We can’t forget about those.
This is my fall 2009 billing statement:
The educational fee is the one that was just increased 32%. The registration fee is the one I used to look over quite closely as the chair of the UCLA’s Student Fee Advisory Committee.
Income generated by the University Registration Fee may be used to support services, which benefit the student and which are complementary to, but not a part of, the instructional program. These programs include, but are not limited to, operating and capital expenses for services related to the physical and psychological health and well-being of students; social and cultural activities and programs; services related to campus life and campus community; and educational and career support. These programs create a supportive learning environment and provide general student enrichment.
The SPARC fee pays for the renovation of the Student Activities Center. In spring 2000, students voted on the SPARC referendum to raise revenue to renovate a building that housed many essential student services. In recent years, students have passed many referenda, not just at UCLA but all UC campuses (these are called campus-based fees).
I know it sounds contradictory that students — many of the same ones who were out there protesting, or protested in previous years — are the same ones who campaign for the passage of some of these smaller fees. In fact, as chair of the SFAC, I didn’t oppose a small increase to the Registration Fee as I knew it needed to increase to keep pace with inflation and costs (e.g., to benefits for all the staff in student affairs).
Before, the Registration Fee could have covered services like the Graduate Writing Center. But when that source is already tapped out, students go elsewhere.
Back to that pilates studio. Is it really bad for a campus with 20,000 students to have a gym or health club? No, of course not. I’m fairly certain that UCSC students (who have a lot of campus-based fees) pay some sort of general gym fee, similar to UCLA’s Wooden Center fee. [Update: UCSC students pay a $15/quarter fee for the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports as well as a host of other campus-based fees. If you want to take pilates or other physical education courses such as swimming, you pay an additional fee per course.]
And what about housing and parking? Well those are all auxiliary. They get no state funding and are expected to be self-supporting.
Don’t get your fees mixed up. Students pay for a lot, and we’re not necessarily getting more.