Student fees: we all pay them, but how much does the average Western student know about where all that money goes? A surprising amount of people come up empty-handed when asked about certain fees tagged on to their tuition.

According to Virgilio Cintron, AS Vice President for Business and Operations, “it's not that they [students] don't care, they don't know where to go to find that information.” Also, some fees may seem obvious but the details surrounding why they cost what they do are less clear. Cintron explained this using the bus pass as an example.

“The bus pass is 17 dollars but extra services like the night shuttle make it 25 dollars,” Cintron said.

But it's surprisingly easy to access information about student fees online. On the Western Web site students can view their fees using the tuition calculator, or on the University Planning and Budgeting site.

The main fees associated with tuition are health services, technology, non-academic building, recreation center, renewable energy, transportation, enrollment, student building, extended student services, housing and dining (if applicable) and services and activities. The Services and Activities fee in particular is one that is a mystery to many students. We all pay the fee, but what does it fund and who decides where it goes?

In the spring, representatives from the Associated Students, Athletics, Housing and Dining and other departments, plus the AS President and VP of Business and Operations debate as a group and vote on which programs and departments deserve the most funding. The debate is not regulated by a facilitator. Instead, each department separately lobbies for their programs and goals. Percentages from past budget breakdowns, feedback from past programs and assessments of each organization's particular needs help the committee reach its final decision.

Once this money is allocated, the various departments use it to create programs, improve campus facilities and services, put on events and accomplish other goals related to campus services and activities.

The importance of funding by students via the Services and Activities fee to these programs cannot be underestimated. “Student fees keep this organization [the AS] running,” said Kevin Majkut, Director of Student Activities.

“All the people at the table have the interests of the group in mind,” Cintron said. “Representatives keep each other accountable because everyone is trying to go for the same pool of money.”

Additionally, all representatives go in knowing that some of their programs or requests will be cut in order to create a balanced budget, Cintron said.

Cintron raised the question if there should be an outside facilitator “not vested in this.” But Cintron also pointed out that most, if not all, of the members on the Services and Activities committee are students, and that these students all have long-term, experienced advisors to assist in their decision-making. It is possible that a group of students could act as facilitators to ensure further student participation in the allocation process, Cintron said.

Cintron is trying to develop a resource where people can learn where their fees go. This resource would be in the form of a committee that, according to Cintron, “looks at fees, researches, presents to a group and gets student input on fees and recommendations.” This committee would report to the AS Board of Directors so that the directors could personally review them.

Cintron's goal is to make “people feel comfortable about what they are paying and [expressing] what they want services on campus to be.”

Once the money has been distributed to the various departments, students can ensure they get their money's worth in a variety of ways.

Cintron suggested “learning about what programs are supported by your fees and knowing how to access them, and utilizing [programs] and participating in the ways you would like to.” He also recommended joining a committee, such as Alternative Transportation or the Student Publications C ouncil, among many others. Getting your voice heard is an excellent way to make the most of the Services and Activities fee because it funds so many resources readily available to students.

To learn more or to submit suggestions to the Board, check out the resources listed with this article.

RESOURCES

Tuition calculator: located on the main Western Web page.
The tuition calculator allows you to see what fees come with tuition and how much they cost. The calculator is an easy-to-use tool for a quick assessment of your fees.

University Planning and Budgeting: www.acadweb.wwu.edu. The University Planning and Budgeting Web site displays detailed information about student fees in terms of cost and what departments they go to. It lists annual fees and rates, plus budgets. Click on “WWU Facts and Comparisons.”

Virgilio Cintron, VP for Business and Operations: ASVP.BusOps@wwu.edu. Virgilio Cintron is an excellent resource if you are seeking advice or information about fees or have suggestions for the Board. His office hours are available in the AS Board office, located in Viking Union 504.