Student Activity Fee Structure Sees Shakeup

Penn State’s Student Activity Fee Board (SAFB), which determines (among other things) the student activity fee (SAF) rate each year, will see a policy change in how the fee at University Park is set thanks to lobbying from the student governments.

Not every Penn State campus pays the same fee. Since its implementation in the mid-1990s, the SAF has more than tripled at University Park. The SAFB — made up of a mix of University Park students, branch campus students, and administrators from both — currently considers SAF levels based on two tiers. University Park and the more populous branch campuses are in one tier, while smaller branch campuses are in a second tier. Each campus has different needs and resources, but all of Penn State’s 20 campuses must be fit into these two tiers. Sometimes, students at a campus will want a large $15 SAF fee increase, while University Park students want no SAF increase, but the SAFB must consider the needs of all campuses to determine its fee level for that tier. Currently, University Park students and other tier 1 campuses pay $93, while tier 2 campuses pay $87.

While University Park has always been placed in tier 1 with large branch campuses, it’s not necessarily a University Park-elitist idea to acknowledge that the campus and its 40,000+ students have vastly different needs than even the next biggest campus. At least, that was at the heart of the SAFB proposal presented at its meeting on Friday, which aimed to give University Park its own tier not tied to the needs any other campus when deciding its fee level.

SAFB member and UPUA Speaker John Wortman presented a motion that pilots a process to consider just University Park when making a recommendation on the top tier.

“UPAC, UPUA, and GPSA would attempt to come to this board with a unified idea of what they believe the University Park fee should be,” he said. “The next level would be proposed by CCSG and any of the commonwealth campuses can opt into either of the tiers. If there’s a discrepancy between UPUA, UPAC, and GPSA, their different proposals or plans would come to this full board and we would hash out what we think the fee level should be.”

Wortman said that the top tier has been influenced by six or seven other campuses in the past. While commonwealth campuses will still be allowed to opt into the top tier, this level will not take them into consideration because of University Park’s unique needs.

“Basically, we want one tier that’s based on University Park interests because the population is so different than any other campus,” UPUA President Anand Ganjam said. “In the past, it’s been more of a compromise.”

While Wortman’s motion, which passed unanimously, does not permanently alter the process immediately. The SAFB discussed voting on amending its handbook to officially implement the new process during its November or January meeting. The SAF for the next academic year is typically set in the spring.

Later in the meeting, Wortman turned heads when he informed the board that he will propose that it alters its voting membership in November. Wortman believes that a student activity fee should be voted on and decided by students only. Wortman said that he would like the rest of the staff to remain on as ex-officio members because “it’s important to have administration involved to help ensure students are making informed decisions.”

It seems like another good idea from UPUA leadership — students determining their own fee, not administrators — but it will likely have a more difficult time than this resolution getting through the SAF membership. Students do have a supermajority over administrators on the SAFB 8 to 5, but the move could still be vetoed by VP for Student Affairs Damon Sims. Andrea Dowhower, one of Sims’ assistants, is the current SAFB chair. Logic would tell us that this one seems like an uphill battle, but we’ll see what Wortman an the student governments have up their sleeves in the coming months.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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