The Georgetown University Student Association senate’s Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair Owen Hayes (COL ’18) has proposed a $41 increase in the annual student activities fee, which would be implemented if approved by a campuswide referendum.
The proposed increase from $159 to $200 per year was suggested by Hayes during both a GUSA senate meeting March 13 and a Finance and Appropriations meeting March 14.
Currently, the student activities fee, which each Georgetown student must pay at the beginning of each academic year, is scaled to national inflation, amounting to $159 during the 2016-17 school year.
GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19), who cited affordability as a central issue in his campaign, said he opposes raising the student activities fee because it would effectively increase the cost of attendance for students.
“Regardless of what the final dollar amount is, there will always be more need. Organizations can always put up more programming; there can always be more financial support,” Mack said. “We are always hesitant to implement policies that would make the cost of attendance higher for students.”
Hayes said his Fin/App Committee experience has shown him that student groups on campus lack the necessary funding to organize events and run programs.
“It has become apparent that there is a fundamental gap between the amount of programming that student groups are looking to put on and the amount of funds there are available to facilitate that programming,” Hayes wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Hayes said he reached the $200 figure after analyzing data from Fin/App Committee records and emphasized he believes the current student activities fee is insufficient to fund the number of student groups active on campus when compared to the funding available to students at peer institutions.
“More conversations can and should be had about what the exact appropriate number for the fee is, but as it stands it is definitively too low and raising it to $200 would not only serve the purposes listed above, but would also bring us closer in line with our peer institutions, many of whom have student activities fees, or their equivalents, that are well above that $200 amount,” Hayes wrote.
Mack said not raising the fee allows students to choose what they wish to pay for.
“Under the status quo, we are giving the students the choice to spend their $41 where they so please, and so students who are not involved in clubs then have the freedom to decide where that money goes,” Mack said.
Hayes said neither students involved in student groups nor those who are not involved would benefit from the hike.
“It funds hallmark events put on by the Georgetown Program Board like Mr. Georgetown and the Spring Concert,” Hayes wrote. “It provides the funding to bring remarkable speakers to campus through the Lecture Fund. Georgetown Day itself, the hallmark community day on the Hilltop, is funded through the student activities fee.”
GUSA Finance and Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Scott Lowder (COL ’17) said a hike in the activities fee is a good idea because many students are active in student groups.
“The arguments in favor of it make sense, in that we are a very program-heavy university, especially considering that unlike other universities, we don’t have as much of a Greek system,” Lowder said in an interview with The Hoya.
Lowder said this spring is not an ideal time to push for a referendum; Mack and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18) won the executive race on their platform of affordability.
“We just had an executive campaign centered on affordability, and tuition is rising, so that’s student costs rising,” Lowder said. “I don’t think this is the right time to put a referendum to the student body.”
Hayes said the increased fee would lower out-of-pocket costs for low-income students, for whom the student activities fee is already accounted by financial aid packages.
“For the many Hoyas receiving financial aid the financial barrier to participating fully in student activities on campus will be reduced,” Hayes wrote.
Student Activities Commission Chair Ricardo Mondolfi (SFS ’19) said he is not yet convinced a fee hike is necessary.
“If this is a proposal that is put forth, it needs to be very nuanced, met with a university increase in their funding to us,” Mondolfi said.
Mack said even if the university pledges to match the amount raised by students, administrators would have to account for the expense in other areas.
“Money does not fall out of the sky. If we raise the Student Activities Fee, and say, ‘hey, university, you should pay more money too,’ that has to come from somewhere,” Mack said. “It will result in equally scalable tuition increases or increases in other areas.”
Mondolfi said the Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Chris Fisk (COL ’17) GUSA executive considered a fee raise, but decided against it.
“We needed to get a lot more serious with efficiency, making sure the funds we already have are spent appropriately, and the solution was not necessarily to throw more money at it,” Mondolfi said.
Mondolfi said he doubts the current student body would support a cost-raising proposal.
“It is very easy for anyone to raise the argument that we essentially are raising tuition,” Mondolfi said. “For less interested students, the idea of having to pay more, and having it go to GUSA — people might be skeptical, and there could easily be a massive turnout against it.”
Lowder said the idea does not have enough support within the GUSA senate or among Fin/App Committee members. Two-thirds of the GUSA senate must vote to approve adding a referendum to the GUSA election ballot.
Mack said event co-sponsorship between distinct, but similarly minded student groups could be an alternative
“Any given week at Georgetown, you may have different clubs that are putting on virtually the same event,” Mack said. “That will help with costs, and that will also help with cross-pollination of ideas, so that could be really beneficial in helping us getting a lot of bang out of our buck.”
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