It was all but inevitable, but they had the meeting nonetheless. The 13-member Student Activity Fee Board unanimously approved the biggest fee increase since 2010 this afternoon, hiking up the mandatory Student Activity Fee at University Park and other Tier 1 campuses from $87 to $93.
The meeting was dominated by Commonwealth Campus interests. CCSG, the student government for all campuses but University Park, has four representatives on the fee board compared to UPUA’s two. Despite this unfair discrepancy, the motley board still decides the Student Activity Fee for University Park students.
“From a campus perspective, we’re looking at a $6 increase,” said CCSG President Jalon Alexander. “I think that is relatively modest. Four campuses don’t want an increase, but many others are running out of fees and want a higher increase.”
Alexander noted that nine campuses wanted even higher increases — all the way up to a $13 increase proposed by Penn State-Worthington Scranton. He noted that he felt the $6 increase would be the most fair to all campuses. Of course, the Commonwealth Campuses have very different resources and enrollment numbers than University Park and their fee is used in different ways. The two UPUA representatives with voting power — President Katelyn Mullen and Chair Anthony Panichelli — noted the inherent unfairness that the University Park fee is tied to the other campuses.
“When you’re dealing with finances, University Park shouldn’t be basing our decision off the Commonwealth Campuses,” Mullen said. “From the University Park standpoint, it’s clear we need a $4 increase.”
“This is about the culture created at University Park where student groups don’t fundraise and just get free money from UPAC,” Panichelli said. “I think it’s really inappropriate how this board is set up. I really sympathize with the Commonwealth campuses. But the bottom line is, at University Park, we need to live within our means and get back to a culture of fundraising. We go down this road every single year.”
“The conversation needs to stop being pushed back about having two separate boards. It’s about time we split these boards up.”
The Student Activity Fee was created in 1996 and set at $25. The fee was setup to increase by the rate of inflation every year, which would be between $34 and $38 today depending on what calculator you use. However, the fee continues to increase at roughly triple the rate of inflation because of an increased demand for funds at University Park, but especially at Commonwealth Campuses.
It was clear from the beginning that the UPUA representatives were the only two in the room uncomfortable with the $6 increase. Ultimately, they voted for the increase because their membership in the board requires they drop their constituency at the door and vote based on the interests of the entire Penn State system — at least, that’s the stance they took.
Unfortunately for University Park students, this is a familiar tune. When Panichelli brought up the issues of restructuring, Andrea Dowhower, an Assistant VP for Student Affairs and chair of the SAFB meetings, questioned the relevance of the conversation to the issue at hand. There were talks of forming a subcommittee to discussion restructuring the board — but those talks tend to surface every year around fee increase time. Panichelli and Mullen, both seniors, and their responsible fee advocacy will be gone in four months, and the process will restart next year. Such is the peril of student leadership, but perhaps that’s just the way Student Affairs wants it.
“I sympathize with the campuses,” Panichelli said in his conclusion. “But this is ridiculous for us.”