If all goes according to plan, USF students may notice a new fee tacked on to their Fall 2012 tuition – a fee that wouldn’t cost any money.
Student Government (SG) Senate President Khalid Hassouneh and student body President Matt Diaz created the Academic Enrichment and Opportunity Fee last semester to be what they call “fee-neutral,” a term meaning it would come at no additional cost to students.
The fee is designed to pay for student involvement programs such as internships, travel abroad programs and research opportunities. If approved, it will be the first “fee-neutral” student fee in the state, Hassouneh said.
“Fee-neutral’ would mean that we would freeze raising some fees that were already planned to be raised this year,” Hassouneh said. “We’re not just saying on paper that we’re not going to raise them. We’re talking about those fees that automatically go up every year.”
Hassouneh said each of the five existing fees increase with tuition increases every year. The new fee would cost an estimated $1.54 per credit hour, but that money will be taken from the frozen fees.
An online survey was sent to all USF students email accounts Nov. 3 asking students, “Would you support this fee?” Out of 2,879 participants, 34 percent supported the fee, while 66 percent were opposed.
Yet, when students were asked if their opinion would change if the fee were “increase neutral,” 57 percent of students answered “yes” and 43 percent answered “no.”
Hassouneh said the survey results indicated students would be in favor of the fee if it were passed.
“The students have spoken overwhelmingly they don’t support the fee alone,” he said. “But if we make it fee-neutral…it seems that students do care enough that they would like this new fee.”
After meeting with USF Provost Ralph Wilcox on Friday to discuss the survey results, Hassouneh said SG and administrators are tentatively moving forward with the proposal.
Wilcox said in an interview with The Oracle that USF is looking at freezing two existing fees, assuming the Academic Enrichment and Opportunity Fee is passed for next year.
“We are looking at the technology fee and the financial aid fee both of which are capped at 5 percent of tuition at this moment in time,” he said. “Assuming there’s a tuition increase next year we would not increase the rate for the technology fee or the financial aid fee.”
The fee will be presented to the President’s Cabinet, which is comprised of administrators, once it is finalized with the Office of the Provost. The Academic and Campus Environment (ACE) Advisory Council, comprised of faculty and students, would then review it, followed by the ACE Workgroup on Dec. 1.
Pending approval, the fee will be presented and voted on at the Dec. 8 Board of Trustees meeting and reviewed at the next BOG Finance and Advisory Council, before it is sent to the BOG to vote on.
“It’s a long and quite deliberate process during which the fee will be subjected to extensive scrutiny,” Wilcox said.
Hassouneh said if the fee is approved at all levels, it will be brought back to the students to vote on in a referendum, similar to the referendum passed for the Student Green Energy Fee in April. The fee will only go into affect if students support it.
Diaz said he would like to see fee-neutrality and student-led student fees become precedents for the University, giving students greater control over what their fees are allocated to.
“This can empower the students,” he said. “If (they) want to be taxed and they want something bad enough, they can have it.”
The fact that students are going into a global, competitive job market, he said, makes this fee very important.
“We’re trying to give our students an edge when they graduate, because we all know we’re going into a competitive job market,” he said. “We’re in a global marketplace right now and we need to be competing with everybody.”
Hassouneh said University of North Florida (UNF) is the only other school in the state that has a fee similar to the proposed fee.
The UNF fee, dubbed the Student Life and Services Fee, was approved in January and implemented this fall. The fee, which is not “fee-neutral” accounts for 5 percent of tuition and currently costs $4.78 per credit hour for such uses as hiring personnel and “expand(ing) student participation.”
Hassouneh said the proposal, which comes after students’ tuition was increased by 15 percent for the academic year, is intended to provide benefits without costs.
“Bottom line, we didn’t want to increase financial burden,” he said. “We wanted to create new opportunities, not limit people from being able to take advantage of opportunities at college.”