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Students fund collective fee, council to analyze reallocation

Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 02:09

As state funding to public universities has decreased in recent years, Texas A&M administrators have implemented alternative money management strategies to bear the brunt of fluctuating finances. One strategy was the establishment of the University Advancement Fee.

The UAF replaced 13 mandatory student fees by pooling that money into one fee. The established pool of money can then be reallocated back into the various fee divisions based on priority and need.

“Last year, we went through a pretty difficult exercise in trying to deal with a 14 percent reduction in our state appropriation — almost $40 million. That was a big hit,” said University President R. Bowen Loftin. “That money primarily is what pays faculty salaries and staff salaries.”

Loftin said the loss of appropriations directly impacted the educational mission of the University, something already made difficult by the increase in students and decrease in faculty.

“When you have that kind of hit coming directly at the educational enterprise of Texas A&M, it’s very serious,” Loftin said. “Our whole goal is to make sure [students] get the best education [they] can get, and we have fewer faculty than we had a year ago, and we have more

The solution, something the A&M administration has been working on since the spring, was to find funding from non-state dollars. Loftin said the goal was to reallocate non-state dollars to make up for $21 million dollars lost. This was inhibited due to the restrictions around fees.

When asked if money in the UAF would be used for purposes outside of mandatory student fee divisions, Loftin said it was possible but not intended.

“It’s possible, but we have to be cautious with that, but it’s possible,” Loftin said.

Historically, fees by statute must go to they’re specifically designated divisions.

Loftin said the University has done its best to move money around and manage the specific designation of fees, but it wasn’t done as well as he thought it could be.

University administrators introduced the UAF concept to allow more flexibility with fee dollars. After pooling the 13 fee divisions, the UAF collected a total fund of $120 million.

The Council for Strategic Budgeting will analyze the reallocation process.

Loftin announced Wednesday to the Student Finance Committee that the basic make-up of the Council for Strategic Budgeting has been established, but all council members have not yet been finalized.

The council was tasked with the review, prioritization and recommendations of amount of fee dollars the 13 fee divisions should receive.

Loftin said he expects the council to make recommendations on changes by December. Changes to fee division allocation will begin for the 2013-2014 academic year.

The council is divided into three sub-councils, each tasked with separate goals, ultimately recommending to Loftin where money in the UAF should be allocated.

The three sub-councils are the Tuition and Fee Sub-Council (formerly the Tuition and Fees Committee), the Strategic Reallocation Sub-Council and the Student Service Fee Advisory Sub-Council. Each of the 13 fee divisions — as has been done similarly in the past — will make their case to each sub-council on new needs or services and, ultimately, how much funding they should receive.

The sub-councils will be made up of both students and faculty, both voting and non-voting. Based on the complexity of the issue, Loftin said students involved will first serve as non-voting members for a year in order to get a grasp of the situation before they are able to make decisions.

“We’ll have students who are in a learning moment, one year not voting, but hearing everything that is going on and debating and then year two they can vote,” Loftin said. “We can maintain an educated group of students because this is not simple stuff, there’s a lot of details.”

Students participating come from a range of different organizations, including the Student Government Association, the Corps of Cadets and Greek Life.

“These are representative bodies that are going to feed into the committees,” said Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications at Texas A&M.

Some students, like sophomore political science major and SGA finance chair, Fernando Sosa, said they are concerned at the possible lack of transparency, as well as the suddenness of the UAF’s establishment.

“It’s being done, obviously, to get more money from students through fees, but in a way that would limit the transparency and student voice when it comes to the way that allocations would be made under the new fee,” Sosa said. “I think it was a hasty decision that needed more thoughts and more student input.”

Sosa said although there are going to be students involved in the Council for Strategic Budgeting, it is not enough to eliminate the fact that the administration now has more flexibility with students’ money.

“With the 13 fees we at least knew what the money was intended for,” Sosa said. “Now, we just pay one fee and the administration has the final say on where that money will be allocated.”

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