The Council of the Undergraduate Association voted Monday night to propose a $4 increase in the student life fee (SLF) for the upcoming fiscal year. The Council also discussed possible additional increases of $4 and $3 in fiscal years 2017 (FY17) and 2018 (FY18) respectively.
The current student life fee is $304 per year.
UA president Matthew J. Davis ’16 said that the increases are “long overdue” and are necessary to ensure student groups will be adequately funded.
The increase comes after last year’s report that the UA was more than $50,000 in debt. In FY15, the UA thought it had a surplus and decided to aggressively fund student groups. Now, they are planning to cut student group funding back to FY14 levels, or about $1,200 per group.
At $1,200 per group, $349,000 is needed for the current 233 student groups plus additional student-oriented activities and UA internal operations. There is currently a gap of $34,200. The proposed $4 increase will bring in about $40,000. These figures do not take into account growth in the number of student groups, for which the current trend is an additional 16 new active groups per year.
An increase in the SLF, according to Davis, is insurance against bad future leadership in the UA. It also takes into account that financial windfalls received this year, such as a grant from the Division of Student Life and the GSC’s funding for shuttles, will not necessarily be extended to future years.
“If we don’t increase the fee … the [people] it’s going to hurt [are] students, plain and simple,” Davis said. UA Treasurer Alekhya K. Reddy ’16 emphasized the importance of student groups to the culture of MIT. “Someone puts in $4 ... but we get a lot more out of it than just $4.”
In FY17 and FY18, the UA will have “the option of thinking about” additional increases of $4 and $3 dollars respectively, but there is “no guarantee” that these will take place.
In order to both raise and save money this year, in addition to the proposed fee increase, the UA has created both a resource development committee (for the purpose of fundraising) and an alumni relations committee. The recent rash of UA resignations is due, according to Davis, to the requirement to raise money. The organization has also discontinued the policy of having an overallocation percentage in the funding of student groups.
The UA’s income comes from several sources, including the student life fee, General Institute Budget (GIB), and contracts with Kaplan Test Prep and the Princeton Review. $70,000 of this funds student-oriented activities, including student-faculty dinners, Springfest and Fallfest, and shuttles. $35,000 funds UA internal operations, such as Trashion Show, Wellness Week, and website maintenance. The rest of the money, or $210,400, funds student groups through Finboard.
According to Davis, the UA has not requested an increase to the SLF since its inception in 2003. The SLF has, however, been increased by other organizations, such as the Graduate Student Council.
Now that the UA Council has approved the proposed increase, there is a five-step process to implementing it. First, the UA will present the proposal to Dean Colombo, who will present it to the Enrollment Management Group (headed by Dean for Undergraduate Education Dennis Freeman). The Enrollment Management Group then has three options: approve the increase, disapprove the increase, or decide to take the money out of the GIB instead of increasing the SLF. Then Freeman will go to Academic Council, who will also choose one of these three options. Finally, President L. Rafael Reif will go from the Academic Council to the executive committee of the MIT Corporation. (By this time, the $4 increase will be just one part of many items to be approved.)
If all goes according to plan, the increase will take effect after this spring. Davis said that the likelihood that the UA will be given more money is high, whether this money comes from an increase in the SLF or directly from the GIB. Either way, at no point in the process will the proposed fee increase become larger. “The maximum potential increase this year is $4,” Davis said.
Students weighed in on the increase during impromptu interviews in Lobby 10 Wednesday.
Some were ambivalent about the proposal. “MIT already costs so much,” said Stephanie H. Chin ’19. “That’s just [the cost of] a lunch.”
Others had more criticism. Mo E. Eltahir ’19, who hadn’t heard about the increase before The Tech spoke with him on Wednesday, said he thought the increase was “silly” and that “the university has the money.”
If MIT can afford to buy large quantities of USB wall plugs to give out at fairs, he said, then it is “within their ability to do some slight accounting magic” to find money without raising the SLF.
Another student, David J. Bustillos ’18, questioned the apathy of the student body. “I think it’s about the principle of the thing. When the UA makes a decision, students will just roll over and accept it. I don’t like this trajectory we’re on.”