Precedents were set Thursday, as the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) voted on the student Green Energy Fee and the Global Experience Fee – supporting one and dismissing the other.
The BOG voted 3-2 in support of the green fee, which will allow the various campuses within the USF system to enact a fee, not exceeding $1 per credit hour, allocated towards addressing efficiency and sustainability concerns.
Meanwhile, the BOG struck down the Global Experience Fee in a 4-1 vote, which would have allowed each respective campus to institute a $10 per semester flat fee towards the funding of study abroad scholarships and related programs.
Last year, the Florida Legislature authorized the BOG to approve fees totaling up to 10 percent of student’s base tuition or less for the first time, said BOG member and acting chairman John Rood.
“We’ve never been here before, and therefore the (BOG) is being asked for the first time to approve or not approve new fees,” he said during the meeting. “I think it’s really very important since we’re doing it for the first time. It not only represents a challenge, but an opportunity.”
Previously the Legislature had made all decisions on fees itself, said Linda Whiteford, USF vice provost.
Rood used the word “precedent” several times Thursday to address not only the weight their decisions would carry, but also the weight of their reasoning, as their standards should remain consistent for future proposals, he said.
“Whatever fees, whatever types of fees, whatever character of fees we approve today are going to lay precedent to projects next time,” he said. “We are laying precedent right now as to what our filters are, what our screens are and what fees we’re willing to approve.”
With the BOG’s support, student-faculty committees can now form on each system campus to determine if a fee will be enforced and how much it would cost per credit hour.
James Scott, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy and student body president of the St. Petersburg campus, said USF Polytechnic and Sarasota-Manatee will likely not institute the green fee for the coming semester. However, he said he believes that the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses likely will, as students from both campuses have been pushing for similar fee on campus since 2007.
“It has been years in the making,” he said.
Karissa Gerhke, a senior majoring in biology and president of the USF Student Environmental Association, attended the meeting in support of the Green Energy Fee.
“The funds generated from this fee would be used for either energy efficiency projects or renewable energy projects on campus,” she said.
Both the green fee and the Global Experience Fee were approved by the USF Board of Trustees on Dec. 16, for submission to the BOG for final approval.
Amanda Torsey, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary social science, spoke in favor of the Global Experience Fee, while Provost Ralph Wilcox came in support of both proposed fees.
“Each fee supports a strategic priority to the University – priorities that are not covered by other fees,” Wilcox said.
During the 2009-10 school year, only 1.4 percent of the USF student population had school-endorsed international experiences, compared to Florida State University and the University of Florida, which both had 4 percent or more.
If the Global Experience Fee had passed, its funds would have been allocated primarily to need-based scholarships that would be specifically tailored to the purpose of offsetting the initial costs of studying abroad, Wilcox said.
Torsey said this is a common reason why more people do not take advantage of international opportunities.
“(The USF in Prague program) is trying to recruit a minimum of 12 students to attend a four-week program to study leadership studies in Prague,” she said. “The past four years the program has been cancelled every time, not because of a lack of student interest, but for the fact that students could not afford the fees that were up front and those they would incur through the duration of the trip.”
She said there are currently 26 students who have shown interest in the trip, however she has found that when students become fully aware of the financial burden, they are unable to commit.
While Rood said he was a supporter of study abroad programs, he did not vote in favor of the Global Experience Fee.
“Do we charge 100 percent of the students for the benefit of four students?” Rood asked. “You know no more than 4 percent are going to take advantage of it.”
Wlicox disagreed with Rood’s assessment.
“We have a number of fees across all our universities, where all students pay, but few students avail themselves to the opportunity,” he said. “Athletics I think is a good example, health fees, even our financial aid fees.”
Wilcox’s final plea was not able to sway the BOG majority once the votes were cast. However, the USF system can file an appeal within five days of the original decision.
Rood said if such action is taken, the BOG appeals committee will meet to review the request.