The last time a student fee was approved by the student body through the Student Union Assembly (SUA) spring elections was 2011, for Measure 49: Cultural Arts and Diversity Fee and Measure 50: Measure to Increase Student Voice. In the following three elections, no referenda fees have passed — all due to low voter turnout.
Last year, the voter threshold was decreased from a required 33 percent voter turnout by the student body, which could be passed with a simple majority, to 25 percent required turnout, which is passed with a two-thirds majority. Despite the change, which was aimed to make it less difficult to meet the threshold, none of the five student fee referenda garnered 25 percent of the student body’s vote.
SUA Chair Justin Lardinois said students may be unwilling to pass fees because of rising cost of UC attendance, which includes tuition and student fees.
“I believe all students want a UC education to be affordable and accessible, and any increase — tuition, fees or otherwise — detracts from that,” Lardinois said. “On the other hand, as opposed to tuition and the Student Services Fee, which are handed down from the regents, the referendum process is democratic. It allows students to autonomously decide if particular services and programs are worth a fee increase.”
In light of budget cuts, enacting student fees are ways for on-campus organizations to keep their programs alive and sustainable. Chancellor George Blumenthal said he’s worried the majority of students don’t vote in the spring elections, and he’s not exactly sure why the turnout is so low.
“I wish students were more engaged [in the SUA elections],” Blumenthal said. “Students will have to look with real concerns at what items and what their priorities are, this is not an easy thing. As a chancellor, I would say there are some student fees that are really worthwhile for the campus. On the other hand, I don’t want to see the student referenda that our students start being terribly burdened by these fee measures.”
He defers to SUA regarding what the voter threshold should be, and has approved its structure change multiple times in the past.
“Sometimes I wonder if we are repeating the same mistakes over and over again,” Blumenthal said. “We should change the discussion not to the threshold, but ways to increase student participation in elections.”
This spring, three student fee referenda — along with SUA’s constitution amendments and SUA candidates — will be voted on in May. While some current fees have sunset clauses, and some are permanent, amendments to current measures can also be proposed for the spring election. The proposed student fees include amendment to Measure 30: Strengthening Access to Learning Support Services, Athletics Operation Enhancement Fee, and CruzCare Access for All – Injury and Illness Health Center Fee.
During last Tuesday’s SUA meeting, students and staff of these three bodies presented their proposals to SUA and answered questions. Next week, SUA members will discuss which measures they will sponsor.
Sponsorship is required for referenda to get on the ballot, but sponsorship from SUA means that SUA wishes to put the issue to a vote of the student body — it is not an endorsement or statement of support of the referendum. To get sponsored, the proposals must be passed by two-thirds of SUA, seven of 10 college representatives or 10 percent of the campus through a petition.
Amendment to Measure 30:
Strengthening Access to Learning Support Services
An additional permanent fee of $5.36 per student per quarter, to make the TOTAL fee $12 per quarter
Learning Support Services’ (LSS) three primary programs include Modified Supplemental Instruction (MSI), subject and writing tutoring and drop-in writing and math assistance. MSI learning sessions supplement about 45 lower and upper division undergraduate courses that are often challenging for students.
Despite increased demand for tutoring sessions, LSS has been forced to limit its services to avoid a financial deficit this year. There are fewer MSI positions available, less MSI support in large lower division classes and fewer classes that have LSS tutoring available. LSS is unable to offer tutoring in classes that are MSI supported, and it is also unable to place enough MSI learning assistants in large classes to meet student demand.
Last year LSS proposed a similar amendment that gained 67 percent of voter support, but was just shy of meeting the 25 percent threshold, with 23.13 percent.
“We decided to go back on the ballot this year and I’m doing it with mixed feelings because I actually think that the current position that SFAC [Student Fee Advisory Committee] took says it well — it supports LSS but says that the university should pay for academic support services for students, and I don’t disagree with that,” said LSS Director Holly Cordova. “It’s with sadness and some real shame that I come to the students and say, ‘Come help us again with this additional money, this addition $5.36.’ The problem is that more students are asking for services than we can effectively provide.”
Since tutors and MSI learning assistants are paid more than $12 per hour, students wouldn’t even be paying for one hour of tutoring with an annual $12 student fee to fund LSS.
Cordova said students are justifiably “measure-weary,” and may struggle to pass new student fees when there are many resources that the university needs to offer. While she asks for student support in this referendum, she would wholeheartedly accept whatever the students decide.
“Do we really need more money than this? Yes. Am I willing to ask students for more? No,” Cordova said. “All the costs of education have gone up so much and students are just so weary of being charged for things they think, which I agree, should be their right. Those are just things students should have for the amount of money that they pay to be here.”
CruzCare Access for All – Injury and Illness Health Center Fee
New permanent fee of $110 per student per quarter
Students who are covered by UC SHIP (University of California Student Health Insurance Plan) pay $805 per quarter. Students who choose to have a third-party health insurance provider can currently opt to pay $90 per quarter for CruzCare, for access to on-campus health care, which covers unlimited health center visits for care of illness or injury, unlimited in-house health center laboratory tests and unlimited in-house health center X-ray exams. If approved, the fee would require all undergraduates to pay for CruzCare, and all students would be able to use on-campus health services. The cost of UC SHIP would decrease about $90 per quarter since CruzCare would no longer be built in.
Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP) Director Meg Kobe said students often don’t realize they need CruzCare until they need it because they are sick or injured.
“The Band-Aid approach is not working anymore, we can’t let the students fall through the cracks,” Kobe said. “All day we have to turn people away because they don’t have access and the out-of-pocket rates are expensive. That’s really, really hard for us as health care professionals because our mission is to care for students who are ill or injured, not to not be able to see them because they have the wrong insurance.”
Athletics Operations Enhancement Fee