As college students, we often ask ourselves at the end of the week, “Where the heck did all of our money go?”
Recently, I have been asking myself another question, “Where is the school’s money going?”
Students, faculty and staff have been pondering this since USF’s Board of Trustees approved increasing tuition by 4.4%.
I’ve experienced a tuition increase twice while at USF, and the school has been doing this in the years before I got here. I am at a complete loss trying to understand the justifications around these increases, but that’s a topic for another time.
What this recent announcement has brought to light is the issue of student representation in budgetary issues — or the complete lack thereof.
In order to help students understand why we need these constant tuition increases and to improve communication between the student body and the administration, students must be included and involved in the recently proposed Operating Budget Advisory Council. This council, which is a step in the right direction, will allow faculty and staff to provide input into key financial decisions. But it is currently not set up to include students.
Since approximately 90% of the operating budget comes from tuition, students should be allowed to sit on and participate in this council.
While we do have a Senate Finance Committee, their power is restricted to the funds raised from the student activity fee every semester. The revenue from this fee amounts to roughly $1 million, which goes to the numerous student organizations on campus. The University’s operating budget for the upcoming academic year, which we have no say over, is $488.4 million.
I imagine that the University’s response could be along the lines of “students are not interested in budgetary issues” or, “students lack the ability to comprehend the inherent complexities of forming a budget.” Let me address those concerns head-on.
While the average college student may not immediately be interested in technical financial issues — I certainly am not — we are absolutely concerned with the money coming out of our pockets. Frankly, I am sick and tired of tuition increases every year.
Also, if the University does not think that students can comprehend budgetary issues, then they should simplify it for us.
This is not to say there aren’t legitimate reasons for raising tuition. Financial aid will also be increasing next year and faculty and staff need to be paid. But to take a step back even further, if the administration constantly needs more revenue through tuition year after year, there may be something wrong with how money is being budgeted and spent. This is not just the opinion of a single complaining student. Jeff Hamrick, who oversees budget and analytics at USF, said in a recent Foghorn article that “numerous questions regarding resource allocation at USF” have been raised.
The lack of communication between the University and students on this issue is concerning. While researching for this article, the University budget office’s website was sparse in information. The administration is rightfully receiving backlash for the proposed tuition increases, partly because we do not know why our already-high tuition needs to be increased any further. I can’t speak for others, but I would be much more open to these increases if students were part of the decision-making process.
This is not a novel approach. Down in San Jose, students at Overfelt High School decide how to allocate $50,000 of the school’s budget. If the local school board and the principal at Overfelt can trust their high school students enough to involve them in the budget process, so can USF.
The Budget Advisory Council, according to Hamrick, is a result of USF’s support for “budget education and transparency.” If that is the case, USF should put its money where its mouth is and include students on this council.