By Renee Senzatimore
Full-time students attending the College have a multitude of fees they must pay each semester in addition to the standard residential and non-residential tuition fees. Fees vary depending on what classes you take, but the one fee that every student is required to pay each semester is the student activity fee. This is a fee which is used to fund,according to the 2013-2015 student catalog, “cultural, athletic, and other activities and programs of the Student Association.” Essentially, this is referring to the various sports programs, clubs, and student organizations that students can join and attend on campus.
Naturally,the need for these fees makes sense; cultural and athletic programs do need funding, and having students financially assist clubs and programs from which they will ultimately benefit is a sensible idea. In the fiscal year of 2011, tax documents show that the College pulled in more than $ 5 million from student fees alone. However, the question we should ask ourselves when looking at a sum this size is, how exactly is it divided among the various programs and activities available on the three campuses? Are they divided strictly according to the necessity of the funding, or are there other factors involved? Who makes the decisions about who gets what, and are they making those decisions with the best interests of the students at heart?
The budgeting decisions at Suffolk are made by 10 Board of Trustee members, which includes one member which represents the student body. Together this Board decides the budget for a given semester, based largely on the projected enrollment for that particular semester. They also make decisions about the student activity fees, along with the Executive Dean for each individual campus, and the College Associate Dean of Student Services. From 2008-2011 the student activity fee was $84. However, it has since seen an increase to $96 dollars.
The reason behind this, according to Interim Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Christopher Adams, who has been in his current position since Jan. 29, is that the fee had not seen an increase in several years and the costs of maintaining the college had been going up; this necessitated the increase in the student activity fee to help accomadate the rising costs of maintaining high-quality programs and services for the students. The money does seem to be flowing in the appropriate places, but another question is; does it flow evenly?
“Each campus has an Association Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations regarding polices, programs, and the allocation of funds to various campus departments and organizations,” states the College web site. Ultimately, these are the people who help the Student Organization decide who gets what each semester, and the budget needs tend to vary each semester, depending on the number of students involved in certain programs and what events or goals the program wishes to accomplish.
The most recently available tax documents from the fiscal year of 2011 show that the Student Association, which receives 90 percent of its revenue from student activity fees, used $914,437 to fund the athletic programs, while $777,180 is used for Daycare services for the students and faculty, and finally, $523,786 was used for various clubs, activities, and student organizations. In particular, the Student Organizations received $207,359.
One immediately notices that a decent portion of the funding is being put towards the athletic department, across all three campuses. However, Dr. Adams insisted that while the sports programs offered at Suffolk are a very valuable aspect of the college, that they do not surpass the importance of academics.
“I would say that having a college-wide athletic program and student life on campus are equally important.” Adams said.
Notably, he also emphasized that sports programs are a great way to promote the recruitment of students each semester, and perhaps this would suggest further incentive for the College to invest financially in athletics; because not only does it provide a great outlet for students, but it also promotes the recruitment of more students, and that particular element should be among any college’s priorities, as long as equal attention is given to the academic needs of the students as well.
The tax documents also indicate that $90,409 was put towards the Visual and Performing Arts Program, which is technically considered an academic program at at the College; however, it still receives funding from the same money which is put towards clubs, activities, and student organizations.
Adams said this is appropriate, considering the fact that the Visual and Performing Arts Program is not merely academic in nature. One example he gave were the plays that are frequently performed at Suffolk; these plays are not presented as part of class curriculum, therefore the plays are not classified as purely academic in nature, and this thought process seems to have driven the school to make the decision to provide the Theater Arts Programs with the same funding reserved for Student Activities. The argument Dr. Adams presented for this did make a good degree of sense; the students at Suffolk are not obligated to put on plays as part of class curriculum; they run as a separate entity, and looked at in this light it does not seem unreasonable to provide funding for the theater art programs at Suffolk with student activity money. Also, the income generated by ticket sales in the fiscal year of 2011 amounted to $81,158. The fact that ticket sales for plays put on by the theater program do generate money for the college is another benefit that having those plays provides for the school, and thus may possibly be an additional incentive to provide funding for those programs.
While most student activities and organizations at the College are receiving the funds they require to operate efficiently, Professor William Burns, associate professor of English and faculty adviser for the English Honor Society, said he believes that currently there are some issues regarding certain clubs and student organizations being unnecessarily denied student fee funds.
Burns said that since Honor Societies are considered “exclusionary” organizations by the College, due to the fact they require certain criteria to join them, they are not entitled to student activity funds, except mainly for the Induction Ceremonies that take place for the students officially joining the societies. This system also is in some cases, requiring students to pay extra to join these Honor Societies because the Societies will charge more to join to compensate for the money they are not receiving from the Student Organizations. Burns said he does not feel this system is adequate, and holds that Honor Societies should be entitled to the same opportunities for funding that all of the other clubs and activities receive.
“I think the college should be doing more for the best students,” Burns said. “We should be doing more for you guys.”
Most concernably, Professor Burns has been repeatedly denied supplementary funds for the Honor Society, which, unfortunately, directly contradicted information provided by Dr. Adams, who stated that Honor Societies did not require a substantial amount of funding to run them, but that if they asked for the funds, they could probably get them. It seems that at this point in time, the difficulties facing the Honor Society and its members regarding funding have not been fully brought to the attention of those in charge of handling student fees.
Overall, the process behind funding student activities and organizations is a complicated process, and while the various programs do tend to get disproportionate amounts of funding, this doesn’t seem to be an issue that is negatively affecting the students. While it seems there is a pattern of programs that advance the interests of the college financially, such as the athletic and theater programs, receiving a decent percentage of student activity funds, it also seems that other student organizations such as the Honor Societies, are being denied funds unfairly due to being classifed as exclusionary organizations. The Board of Trustees Student Representatives, which act as the voice of our students, should in the future bring these problems to the attention of the Board, and work to ensure that all student clubs and activities have an equal opportunity to receive the funds they need.
As for any students wondering if another increase in the student activity fee should be anticipated, Adams has stated that at this point in time, he does not feel another increase in the student fee is currently necessary.