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date sepatator

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013

Response to College Senate Recommendations: Student Fees

At its March 8, 2013, meeting, the College Senate voted to recommend to the president that there be no ($0) increase in the student Technology and Athletic fees for the 2013–2014 academic year.

At its April 12, 2013, meeting, the College Senate voted to recommend to the president the following actions on the student Transportation and Health fees for the 2013–2014 academic year:

  • Increase the Transportation Fee by $15 per year in 2013–2014 to meet the college’s NFTA contractual obligation. The remainder of the contract will be paid in full by the campus without an increase to any student fees.

  • Increase the Health Fee by $7.50 per year in 2013–2014.
     
  • All student Health Fee revenue must be spent only on health, counseling, and prevention services and related programs, and the $114,400 per year currently funding other Student Affairs offices should be returned to support appropriate student health activities no later than July 1, 2014.

Buffalo State is second lowest in broad-based fees among the 12 SUNY comprehensive colleges, eight technology colleges, and four research centers. Our current broad-based fees of $1,124 are $1,145 lower than the $2,269 charged by the University at Buffalo for 2012–2013. Empire State College and the special schools, such as SUNY Upstate and Downstate Medical Centers, charge differently than other comprehensives and technology colleges and research centers, so it would not be valid to include them in this comparison.

Six broad-based fees are under consideration. Three fees, the College Fee, the Activity Fee, and the Technology Fee, will not be increased for 2013–2014.

Three fees will be increased, and some clarification is in order.

The Athletic Fee will be increased $5.50 for an academic year (2.0%). I note that significant student feedback supports the fee increase. A suggestion to move salaries to general fund lines to reduce benefit costs has been made. Careful review of this proposal is necessary for at least two reasons:

  1. Our strategic direction, enunciated at this year’s State of the College address, is focused on restoring full-time faculty lines and with a goal of reaching 330 full-time faculty members. I believe that shifting coaches’ or other salaries from fees to the general fund budget will have an impact on that focus. This will be reviewed in an all funds budget context.
     
  2. Two decades ago, SUNY shifted athletic costs to fees. This shift moved SUNY away from what is often called the “beer and circus” view of athletics and higher education to a focus on academics. Serious study of the long-term consequences of funding athletics from the general fund is necessary, and before I would approve such a policy change, I would need a policy review of academic, not merely financial, implications.

The Health Fee will be increased by $7.50 for an academic year (2.8%). Again, significant student feedback supports this increase, and some students are seeking expanded hours of operation. The Health Center is currently operating at an annual projected deficit of $260,000. Support services for both physical and psychological health are critical to our students, and a strategy for reducing the annual deficit is needed.

The Senate recommendation also expressed concern that some Health Fee funds were spent on student services that were not health related, and there appear to be some differences as to what constitutes a related expense for use of Health Fee revenue. This shall be reviewed and resources realigned if any inappropriate use of funds is identified.

The Transportation Fee will be increased $15 for an academic year (19.7%). This unfortunately steep increase results from a three-year contract negotiated two years ago with full engagement of students. We have little choice but to honor our contract with NFTA. We will include the evaluation on the source of funding for the third year of this fee in the all funds budget process. These fees are essentially set when the contract is signed and should be approved during NFTA negotiations and not annually. Further changes in the NFTA contract will affect our sustainability efforts and increase campus parking needs and therefore other costs. At present, one-third of our fee-paying students use the NFTA system, resulting in 50,000 to 62,000 rides per month.

Serious review is needed prior to the next contract to understand how the bus usage interplays with parking needs as well as our overall philosophy as stewards of our planet and our region