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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration

The Student Facilities Fee: Why It’s Happening So Fast

The Student Facilities Fee is being almost frantically pushed by the administration upon the student body, even while most students and parents remain unaware due to a lack of publicity and transparency in the fee process. What’s this fee all about, and why is the administration so desperate to see the Trustees approve it by May 16?

For a few reasons. First and foremost, the administration under President Spanier has put the University in rather dire financial straits, having incurred over $1.3 billion in debt since the start of his presidency in 1995 with his never-ending capital building campaigns and general campus construction. Keep in mind that the total University endowment is roughly equal to our debt burden at $1.4 billion.

It is because we are approaching a debt ceiling that the administration now needs new ways to generate revenue to pay for what is merely the latest round in President Spanier’s desired building campaigns — in this case, “student facilities” for recreational use, including renovations to the Intramural Building near East Halls and the construction of a connector between the HUB-Robeson Center and the White Building.

Should we really be promoting this fee, given that the administration has already put us in over $1.3 billion worth of debt? is this good for Penn State? Are we taking a responsible fiscal stance on spending and construction for the future of Old State?

Second, the administration is basing their idea for the facilities fee on a flawed, questionable consultative report that was conducted in 2005. An anonymous local blogger at Left of Centre posted a well written entry on the report last week that derails both the basis for the report and the company behind it, Brailsford & Dunlavey. Essentially, the administration is using this consultative report to argue that the student body wants this new facilities fee.

The problem with that line of reasoning, though, is that the survey never gauged whether the general student wish for better recreational facilities actually translated into a concrete need. Moreover, there is no evidence to support the contention that any student at University Park or elsewhere is interested in footing the bill through a new $200 per year “facilities fee.” Keep in mind, then, that it’s the administration, not the student body, who is really interested in this “Student” Facilities Fee.

Third, the administration argues that Penn State lags behind our Big Ten peers in the amount of recreational space available to its students. While this may be true in terms of square footage, there has been no real student outcry over a lack of recreational space at University Park — certainly not one that would justify the implementation of this new fee.

Furthermore, if we are adding the recreational space merely because we are behind statistically compared to other Big Ten schools, the administration is essentially supporting an arms race in facility space that can never be won — someone will always lag behind, and someone will always be having to expand fitness space. It’s nice to keep up with the Jones’, but it’s not fun to hit your debt ceiling and lose your good corporate credit rating.

Finally, the administration is rushing to push the Student Facilities Fee into final form on paper prior to the May 16th meeting of the Penn State Board of Trustees. They want to finalize all its aspects, including price and year-by-year increases (because it’ll only cost $200 for the first year, and then rise every year thereafter) and they want to levy the fee starting in the summer term or fall semester.

In other words, they’re desperate to start bringing in this money immediately, and it’s not altogether clear why, unless something has gone terribly wrong with the University budget due to the credit crisis nationally or due to mismanagement of the finances internally. The consultative report mentioned above was conducted over two years ago — why the sudden rush to create and implement this tax in the space of five months?

When all is said and done, the “Student Facilities Fee” is a tax being pushed by the administration at Penn State on undeserving students and their parents, who are already burdened with the highest tuition for a public university anywhere in the nation. If the administration wanted to add more recreational space, they should have budgeted for their desire over the past five years when they decided to admit more and more students.

Especially given the current economic state of the nation and the massive debt load of the University, it’s important to distinguish between real needs and wants or niceties. Neither students nor their parents are banging the doors down asking for a new fee to pay for new “student” facilities — as if all facilities weren’t for student use in the first place.

The bottom line: this should really be called the “Student Recreation Fee.” It’s for leisure space, it’s not necessary and it’s fiscally unwise given the current credit climate and the overall University debt load.

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Ah, so they will have this ready by summer? How wonderful, I’ll be on internship and paying for tuition, will be nowhere near campus and I’ll still get soaked for $200.

I think somebody in Old Main just wants more money to play with. And I think this is the kind of thing the student representative to the board of Trustees should fight vehemently. Oh wait…Do we even have one? We used to have the Backstabbing traitor Mr. Foulke, but I remember the Admin was looking for a new one…funny how nothing ever came of that…

The admins basically told us in UPUA that either the University gives (actually manage their budget appropriately) or the students give. Why wouldn’t they pick students? Applications are at an all-time high, and there are apparently plenty of families who are willing to foot the bill. Meanwhile, Graham Spanier and the administration are distracting students and alumni from the issues by promoting things like the Tuition Task Force and the Grassroots Network, which are all basically a PR ploy to give the appearance that they don’t want higher tuition. Yes, the State Appropriations Committee needs to give us more money. But Penn State has to step up and be financially responsible, open the budget, stop mortgaging out all of the resources, and stop spending recklessly on things the University doesn’t actually need.

G-span talks about being competitive on a national and international scale. But he needs to remember why this University was founded. This is a land grant institution. It is Penn State’s mission to provide public scholarship for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And its shameful how far we’ve deviated from our mission.

Another question: why was an independent company contracted to do this study when we have a Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management right here on campus? Theoretically the existing faculty within that department would have had the necessary knowledge and skills to do this sort of study, and likely for much cheaper than an outside company. Something stinks here.

1. Outside company was used in a nice example of local pork barrel politics
2. Outside Company was used because said Recreation Department lacks the competency to manage such a study
3. Said Company was used because it would give Administration the data it wanted for its own ends…such as tacking a new fee on to students.

Somehow I have a feeling theres a little bit of each in there.

Doesn’t the University have a marketing department that handles such studies? I’m a world campus student who pays a technology fee that I never benefit from. Now I’ll have to pay for others recreational services while I’m not on campus and paying for my own gym membership? Absurd.

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