Student fees are little understood, but an important part of student government. Photo illustration by Jay Arcansalin / UVU Review

Student fees are little understood, but an important part of student government. Photo illustration by Jay Arcansalin / UVU Review

$12.2 million.

That is the most important number anyone voting in this week’s elections should be considering. Each full-time student is charged a fee, separate from tuition, in the amount of $292. When you add every student’s fees over a year, what you get is approximately $12.2 million. Not chump change at all.

UVU is amazingly unique in a number of ways, not the least of which is how we deal with these fees. Perhaps most enrolled students have no idea how this process works, since no one ever makes a point of telling them, and just how different we are from other schools in this respect.

These fees go to pay for all sorts of things, ranging from the upkeep of our current student center, to paying for the UTA bus pass offered to every student, to paying for every poster you’ve seen inviting you to a superfluous 80s dance or a Mardi Gras celebration held 12 days after the actual event. Over one third of these fees go to support athletic programs that most students never show support for by attending games, and which do nothing to improve our academic prowess.
There are very few schools that allow the kind of control that our student council has over the allocation student fees. The school Web site might say that the Board of Regents sets tuition and student fees, but this is a half-truth at best. The UVUSA constitution requires the student council to vote on every dollar and then allocate accordingly, subject to review and approval from several bureaucratic levels above them, ending with the Board of Regents. For the most part, the Board approves what our council sends to them.

The amazing thing is that there is no delineated, official, approved document or system for deciding how any of these funds are spent at UVU. Each new student council can do almost as they wish, strictly speaking. Most other institutions have a document that clearly defines the places and projects are appropriate for student fees to be used. We have no such document. At UVU, all we have are traditions, rough guidelines, and precedent.

These rough guidelines and traditions are, shall we say, strange. They allow a council to spend $90 of future fees to pay for a new student center we don’t need or thousands on ineffective radio advertising for dances (seriously), but they don’t allow for academic scholarships or childcare for students with kids, both of which are common uses at institutions in other states.

Of course, the student council does not have absolute control. In practice the council is limited by several other things as well – each other, for instance, since each member of the council has a vote. Further, previous student councils will contract for certain allocations which then obligate subsequent councils to abide by their vote and increase or decrease fees as dictated (though these contracts are not as solid as you might think – they can be overturned). There are also administrators on campus who work closely with the council to guide and inform their decisions, for better or worse.

It’s not all bad, though. Our lack of a governing document means that future councils can, if they are willing, think way outside the box that they have been put in. The only thing they need to do is set about convincing those bureaucrats and administrators who work with them that their new ideas are worth pursuing instead of acquiescing to what has come before. Purely to put things in perspective, you should think about this: We could almost double the number of full-tuition scholarships currently offered for the same price as a building the new student center that our current council funded.

$12.2 million. Keep it in mind as you decide who you will vote for.