Mad, Beautiful Ideas

University fee schedules can be ridiculous. Here at Washington State University, a recent request to raise the student fee for the Pullman Transit system was voted down by the Graduate Student/Professional Association (GPSA), some people are upset that the minority of the student body was able to override the Undergrad population, but the grad students feel that there are simply too many fees, and the proposal did nothing to address the needs of the Graduate Student population.

Right now, there are three “Express” buses that run most of the day that have a 15-minute cycle, but all run on the same roads. No buses go by the peripheral parking lots. No buses go by the Campus Graduate Housing. I understand that the Bus system feels that the students (and since the Undergrads are most of the students, the Undergrads) are it’s bread and butter. Part of this is that the buses have no mechanism to verify that all their passengers have paid their bus fees. Anyone with a CougarCard can simply flash that at the bus driver and get on the bus, no questions asked. The bus drivers don’t even really look at the photographs on the cards. No effort is made to ensure that the person has paid the bus fee.

They’d asked for the fee increase because ridership is up. However, I wonder how many people are riding the bus without paying for it? And how many people are riding without paying not understanding that they are supposed to pay? Pullman Transit is a great service to have available (hell, it’s better than Spokane’s Bus system), but they need a better mechanism to track usage and charge for usage, if they plan to be sustainable. They need to offer bus service to the periphery of campus, so that Staff and Graduate students feel better about paying that bus fee. Public Transit is important, but people must feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, or they won’t use it. Busses need to go where you’re going, and they need to do so timely. Pullman Transit is pretty good, but the improvements they needed were not the ones that the Graduate Students needed, so kudos to them.

The next set of fee increases proposed have some elements that are really quite funny. The Student Rec Center currently charges all students a mandatory $128.00 per term. This fee is assessed all students whether they utilize the service or not. The proposal reported on today would raise that fee $8.50 a term per student, which works out to nearly $150,000 increase in their operating budget per term. This is a state of the art facility, and $136.50 for four or five months of use by the students is a really fantastic deal for students, especially for those who are being subsidized by those students who don’t use the facility. As contrast, Faculty or Staff who buy SRC passes will pay $170.00 per term for the privilege.

The best part is the reason that they’re requesting the fee increase:

The reasoning behind the proposed 6.64 percent fee increase is that the Rec Center continues to see increases in the number of students who use the facility as well greater overall frequency of that use, according to documents presented at the meeting.

So, since people are actually USING the facility, they need to charge everyone (including those students who aren’t using it) more? Great. Certainly, they need to charge for their service, but perhaps the SRC should be an opt-in fee. I doubt they’ll go that route, as it eliminates a guaranteed revenue stream that they’ve been happily exploiting for years. At my alma mater we had a gym fee, and an athletic fee that granted us free tickets to sporting events, regardless of if we ever intended to use either (a point of great contention among many of my friends).

Universities have a tendency to nickel-and-dime the student body with a plethora of obscure fees, many for services that students aren’t even aware of. I feel that the WSU Student Recreation Center is a completely worthwhile service, but if they need to raise the rates for all students because more of the student body is utilizing a service they are required to pay for, I believe they need to revisit their funding scheme. The cost of operation may have gone up, but the reason cited suggests that they were banking on the fact that the majority of students would pay for, but never use, their service, which is just wrong.