Student fee increase stabilizes ASOC services

41

Students voted to approve an increase in the student fee by $18 (raising the total fee from $288 to $306 per year) beginning in the Fall 2018 semester as part of the Associated Students of Occidental (ASOC) elections Feb. 16. On top of the $15 student body fee increase, the entire student fee includes a $1.50 increase per year for the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) and Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund (RESF) each. The results of the vote were 76 percent in favor of an increase, according to an ASOC election results announcement email sent Feb. 16. ASOC proposed the fee increase to maintain services, salaries and funding to student services in the face of recent increases in minimum wage and inflation. The Los Angeles city minimum wage increased from $8 to $12 July 1, 2017 and is set to increase to $15 by 2021.

Senate received a larger portion of the student fee because it funds student services and wages. ASOC Vice President of Finance Jarron Williams (senior) said that this was the first time in ASOC history that every branch agreed to a student body fee increase.

Williams said that increasing equipment costs and the rise in minimum wage means that services needed more money. This meant taking funds from less-used services, such as Honor Board and Student Activities Committee, and reallocating them. Williams added that other costs, such as funding for the men’s Ultimate Frisbee team advancing to nationals and for the Food, Energy and Sustainability Team (FEAST), needed to be addressed as well.

According to Williams, the most recent fee change should have happened years ago because of inflation.

“How do we keep a consistent budget when our economy, something outside of our control, is blossoming and going up?” Williams said.

ASOC created the student body fee to provide students with the financial independence to conduct their own programs and activities, according to Williams. ASOC is led by elected students in the Senate and Honor Board and has four additional branches — DEB, RESF, Student Services and Student Media.

Senator Darla Chavez (first year) said that student body fees are used primarily to sustain student services and pay students employed by ASOC. Services include Catalyst; FEAST; La Encina; KOXY; The Occidental and Oxy Design Service. ASOC also provides funding to all clubs and student-sponsored events. Chavez said that events like SpringFest, club sports and Senate projects are also supported by the fee.

“[ASOC’s budget] kind of mirrors the college’s budget. We had different revenue streams. We have student fees, which is the lion’s share of our income, around 90 percent, and all these little other things and then that helps us pay all our bills,” Tamara Himmelstein, assistant dean of students, director of student life and ASOC Senate adviser, said.

In 2010, the student body fee grew to $139 per semester, according to ASOC Finance Manager Linda Schraeder. Before 2010, ASOC funded RESF through a $10 opt-in fee. Since the optional fee did not provide consistent income, RESF asked to be included in the student fee. Schraeder said that ASOC incorporated a RESF fee at $10 per semester in the 2011–2012 school year. RESF now funds the FEAST Garden, Bike Share and independent student projects.

In the 2013–2014 school year, the student body fee increased by $5 per semester to a total of $144 per semester. From 2016–2017, ASOC added a DEB fee at $10 per semester, according to Schraeder. Himmelstein said that a group of students led an initiative to create DEB.

ASOC’s biggest cost is wages for student workers. For the fiscal year 2016–2017, ASOC spent $238,568.15 on student labor, which is 36 percent of the student fees, according to Schraeder.

“I think ASOC has been doing a good job of balancing the books, it was just getting harder and harder. The increase in the ASOC fee was just to relieve some of the pressure that we were experiencing over the years,” Himmelstein said.

Williams said that he came up with the exact number for the increase by calculating how much more money was needed and then dividing it by the number of students. This required factoring in the number of incoming students, possible changes in student population and the school’s accommodation capacity. He used these numbers to originally come up with a $16 fee increase that would be reasonable for the estimated number of students.

Williams said that when he presented this number to DEB and RESF, he did not account for their expenses. Since Senate, DEB and RESF are all funded by student fees, they were also facing cost management issues. According to Williams, DEB and RESF requested that the fee be adjusted to accommodate their increasing costs.

Leading up to the vote, Williams said that he tried to make the reason for the fee increase transparent to all students and show them why the increase was necessary to continue providing the same level of services. In addition to campus-wide emails detailing the rationale for an increase in student fees, ASOC hosted two town halls Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 to discuss the student fee increase prior to the election. He said that many senators were worried that students would see the number and vote against it without understanding the reasons behind it.

“There was a good chunk of people who were against the student body fee increase,” Chavez said. “However, I did come to realize that some of the students who were opposed to it just weren’t as informed as other students.”

Grace Haggerty (sophomore), events director of KOXY, said that while the fee increase will benefit her work at KOXY, students should not have to incur the cost of the higher student fee.

“I am for the minimum wage increase as a whole, and if extra funding is necessary in order to support it I can get behind that,” Haggerty said via email. “The problem for me here is that Oxy, a very wealthy institution, is making students cover the increased expense instead of covering it for themselves.”