The Arizona Desert Lamp

More than a feeing

Posted in Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 12 February 2009

Our Student Services Fee may be a real anti-democratic porker, but as Inside Higher Ed reports, there are more fees in heaven and earth to be dreamt of by UA administrators and student leaders. Like an annual levy to pay for study abroad programs:

Ask study abroad professionals what their challenges are, and the increasing cost for students – followed by the rising cost of program administration and insufficient institutional scholarship support – top the list (according to a 2008 survey from the Forum on Education Abroad). A handful of colleges across the country now levy fees to address, at least to a modest degree, two of those three issues.

Many colleges have long charged fees of students studying abroad to cover program administration costs (number two on the list of challenges). But these new fees are being charged of all students — even those who never study abroad — to fund institutional scholarships. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for instance, students voted last year by more than a two-to-one margin to instate a $5 fee to be used for study abroad scholarships; in the first allocation of awards, 177 students collectively received about $150,000 in scholarships for winter break and spring semester programs.

Evan’s not so sure about the right to an arcade. I have a hard time buying the right to a booze-soaked semester in a student ghetto in Provence. But the article goes on to illustrate the really pernicious problem with the student fee apparatus:

Also in that election, Illinois students overwhelmingly favored restoring the controversial (and retired) Chief Illiniwek mascot. “The students didn’t vote the way the university administration wanted on that one; we are delighted they did vote the way we’d like on the study abroad referendum,” said William I. Brustein, the associate provost for international affairs and professor of sociology, political science and history. “I was delighted with it because it allowed me to leverage more funds both internally and externally. You can just imagine when you go to a potential donor and you say, ‘Look how much our students care about study abroad. They’ve taxed themselves.’ ”

“Our final pitch as we look back on it in retrospect was this is an opportunity for us to raise money for students, paid for by the students,” said Rory Polera, the College of Engineering representative on Illinois’ Study Abroad Student Advisory Committee.

The quotes here make it clear: a study-abroad fee is something the university administration wanted, an easy way to get students to pay for a new program sure to be touted by the admissions office. Or to pay for “site visits” to exotic study-abroad destinations, as a portion of Kennesaw State University’s study-abroad fee is used, according to the article. Or simply to boost the office’s budget, that great marker of public sector prestige that college administrators compare like frat boys with a PVMD (NSFW).

All this evinces a much bigger problem with student fees that are set through student government or campus referendum: just like real politicians and government agencies, student government is subject to capture by more powerful campus interests, who can use campus politics to seek rents and avoid the work necessary to find funding elsewhere. Our own Student Union spent years seeking direct subsidies before student leaders rolled their handouts into the Student Services fee.

Or consider the case of the Arizona Students Association, a student lobbying organization with a piss-poor record of preventing budget cuts and tuition increases. Students pay for a totally ineffective lobby to throw protests and circulate petitions that make students feel like they’re a part of the political process. Meanwhile, university presidents, Arizona regents, and state legislators can make tuition and budget decisions with the assurance that ASA’s there to act as a blast valve for student opinion, siphoning off the will of students into sign-waving onanism on the lawn of the capitol.

Neat trick, isn’t it?


2 Responses

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  1. […] To clarify: the Student Services Fee Survey is not professional, and its use frowned upon by real statisticians; has its legitimacy determined by the authority issuing it; and has no basis upon which it can be overturned as unrepresentative. I’ve already mentioned one possible bias that might manifest itself in this survey, and I’m sure that my colleague can name another. […]

  2. […] openly questioned what exactly we’re getting for our $2 ASA […]

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