Optional Student Fees Unveiled: Students Can Save Money, But They'll Sacrifice Servicing

student fees

Fifty bucks for “The Full – or The Fullest – St. Clair Experience”.

That’s what students will be asked to pay, beginning this fall, when they have the option of financially supporting their campus governments: the Student Representative Council (SRC) at Windsor Campuses, and Thames Students Incorporated (TSI) at the Chatham Campus.

For an additional, optional $50 per year, students will also be able to invest in their futures as grads by funding the services offered by the school’s Alumni Association.

The college’s Board of Governors reviewed and approved the 2019-20 Student Fee Structure during its May 28 meeting, held at the Centre for the Arts. (The administration and three campus organizations negotiated and agree to the new fiscal policy earlier in the month.)

Included in that financial document are the newly designated, non-mandatory, “opt-out-able” fees for the SRC, TSI and Alumni Association. They were created as a result of the “Student Choice Initiative” which was introduced by the Conservative provincial government in January.

The government’s edict arose from some complaints by members of the “Campus Conservatives” (the youth wing of the party that exists at many universities) about the tacked-on-to-tuition fees that exist at their schools – many of which support purportedly “radical” student councils, and even more “radical” provincial/national political lobby groups.

The Campus Conservative critics argued that students-at-large shouldn’t have to pay such mandatory and permanently entrenched fees to support such groups, if they aren’t supportive of their aims and programs. (See http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/student-choice-initiative-pe…)

But by threatening the funding-security of such organizations, student leaders – and many postsecondary administrators – argued that the Conservatives were jeopardizing the delivery of many essential and relied-upon campus services, and the student employment opportunities associated with them. (See http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/student-organizations-object…)

That appeal fell on deaf ears. The Conservatives proceeded with their plan to eliminate mandatory fee-funding of student governments, and ordered colleges and universities to figure out how to implement the Student Choice Initiative.

VARIOUS COMPONENTS

St. Clair’s solution (as indicated by the Student Fee Structure) involves these components:

• Because the SRC and TSI now act as property developers and managers of various facilities at the college, funding associated with those operations was designated as essential, and will be subject to mandatory, “Essential Non-Tuition Related Incidental Fee” payments.

In Windsor, for instance, in 2019-20, a full-time student will be paying $125 for the operation of “student buildings”. Those include the SRC-developed-and-managed Student Centre and Student Life Centre at main campus, and the downtown TD Student Success Centre.

They will also pay $100 annually into the “Student Buildings – Academic Tower/Student Centre Expansion Fee” fund. To be in place until 2027, that fee will pay for a joint administration/SRC project to construct additional floors atop the existing Student Centre. The explanation of the plan in the Fee Structure document states: “This expansion coincides with the vision of the Student Representative Council. Added amenities such as a pharmacy, banking facilities, etc. are being considered. In addition, the Zekelman School of Business and Information Technology will be relocated to the new tower.” (That project has been on the drawing board for over a year, and is awaiting only provincial government approval before it gets underway.)

• The SRC and TSI will also receive 65 percent of the mandatory, $175-per-year Academic Support Fee. This funding recognizes that they are the “lead agencies” for such campus services as the operation of open computer labs, Orientation staging, and various academic support systems;

• The long-standing, SRC-administered health insurance plan for domestic students remains an initially-mandatory-payment fee, with an after-the-fact opt-out-able option. The $300 annual payment serves as a premium providing students with life insurance, prescription drug coverage, and vision and dental care. Students with alternative coverage (a health insurance plan of their own, or coverage as a dependant) may opt-out of the plan and receive a rebate of the fee.

• Also now covered by a separate, stand-alone, mandatory fee ($35 per year) is something which the SRC used to partially fund: physical and mental health services and counselling.

• Not reflected in the Fee Structure is this financial situation: With the closure of the college’s cafeteria (no private-sector company came up with a bid to operate the caf at the end of 2018-19), the SRC is, now, the chief provider of all food services on campus. It owns-and-operates the Griff’s Cavern licensed restaurant, is a franchisee of Tim Hortons and Subway, and has leased Student Centre space to Capri Pizza and Hamoudi’s Shawarma. It bears all of the expenses – and draws all of the profits – of those food service operations, and provides substantial part-time student jobs through them.

EVERYTHING ELSE COVERED BY OPTIONAL FEE

All of which brings us to what is “left-over”: services which are now technically defined as “non-essential”; and now covered by non-mandatory, opt-out-able “membership fees” for the SRC, TSI and Alumni Association.

In the SRC’s case, that means the $50 per year optional fee will be funding such services as:

• entertainment and awareness programming;

• copy centre operations;

• seed-money and special event funding of three dozen campus clubs;

• student publications and social media communications (those departmental costs are partially offset by advertising sales);

• give-aways and promotions;

• advocacy on postsecondary issues at the provincial and federal levels;

• consultative assistance for students’ disciplinary hearings and grade appeals;

•  the operation of a student food bank;

• services and assistance to student-parents and their families;

• community outreach (including the support of local charities); and

• multicultural activities ...

... In short, everything that happens at the college that does not pertain to strictly academic purposes or functions.

“If you’re here solely to sit in a classroom, take lecture notes, grab a book from the library, and then go home – and repeat that process, day after day, week after week – without ever exploring everything else that the college has to offer in terms of services, events and atmosphere, then I suppose membership in student organizations would mean nothing to you,” noted SRC President Kiara Clement.

“But that is really short-changing yourself from exploring and enjoying the full college experience of personal growth, socialization and, yes, fun. So much of that – almost all of that – is delivered by the SRC. The membership fee is a tiny investment for a big adventure, and with huge benefits.”

Those who balk at that investment, and who do wish to forego all of those services, will have to deliberately withdraw from the otherwise automatic membership in the organizations. All students will be charged the $50 SRC/TSI fee (and the $50 Alumni fee) at the beginning of their educations. If they choose to do so, they must opt-out, on-line, within the first ten days of their intake-semester to receive a refund. Failure to do so by that deadline will lead to a retention of membership.

That deadline will be a very firm one, college President Patti France told the BofG during its meeting. Because the funding involved affects the fiscal operation of the student councils as corporations, it is essential that their revenues be determined accurately and quickly – thus, the ten-day deadline.

The advantage of membership is that a student will have full, guaranteed access to all of the organization’s services.

THE OTHER PROSPECTIVE: WHAT IF A STUDENT OPTS-OUT?

In the SRC’s case, the drawbacks of opting-out and (in effect) cancelling one’s membership may include, for example:

• Non-members will not be considered for any of the almost 200 part-time jobs offered in the various SRC departments;

• Non-members cannot vote in SRC elections, run for the council’s Executive positions, or apply for its Directorships;

• If the SRC is staging an entertainment event (concert, pub night) with free or low-cost admission, non-members may not be permitted to attend at all, or will be charged a substantial entrance fee;

• Non-members will not qualify for any of the bursaries or scholarships funded by the SRC;

• If a non-member is seeking to conduct a grade appeal, the SRC will provide a cursory explanation of the bureaucratic procedure, but it will not provide extensive advice or assistance through the complicated and weeks-long process;

• Regular or occasional discounts may be offered to members at on-campus food services and/or in conjunction with off-campus corporate partners – but not to non-members.

“The Conservatives came up with the term ‘Student Choice Initiative’, and I guess that has turned out to be accurate,” Clement said. “The choice is whether you want the full college experience with a complete array of valuable services, or whether you want none or a tiny fraction of what is available to you.

“As a student with a few years of experience here, I really want to emphasize to new, incoming students that they should give this some serious thought. When you’re enrolling, you may think you’re never going to need this or that service – but then something unforeseen happens a week or a month into a semester, and you’re desperately in need of the sort of help that the SRC has been providing for years. We’d hate to see anyone deprived of assistance because they rashly decided to save a few bucks at the outset of their time at the college.”

As a corporation, the SRC – like all student organizations in the province – is “flying by the seat of its pants” in 2019-20. If a pattern emerges of a substantial number of students opting-out, thus significantly curtailing the council’s revenues, it may have to consider major service cuts in 2020-21.

In the short-term – for 2019-20 – the college’s administration has committed to maintaining the SRC’s, TSI’s and Alumni Association’s funding at their pre-Student-Choice-Initiative, 2018-19 levels, even if it has to subsidize their operations to compensate for substantial opt-outs. That is not, however, a long-term, permanent commitment.

MORE MATH TO CONSIDER

For domestic/Canadian students, this year represents a good one to spend the “extra” $50 in order to be fully served, because they are already saving substantial money in other areas.

Another Conservative edict reduced domestic tuition by ten percent, so that is a savings of a couple hundred dollars.

Also, the Student Choice Initiative led to some reworking of mandatory fees. Depending upon campus and program, they’ve dropped anywhere from $3.64 for some international students to $32.75 for some domestic students.

[Funding of the other student organization at the college, the Student Athletic Association (SAA), was not dramatically affected by the Student Choice Initiative. From the outset, the Conservatives designated health-and-fitness as “essential services”. Under the new Fee Schedule, the SAA and Athletics Department will be bankrolled with a $175 annual, mandatory fee, supporting recreation, and varsity and intramural sports.]

The full 2019-20 Fee Schedule can be found at http://www.stclaircollege.ca/registrar/ (or will be soon, if it hasn’t been posted yet).