UI students oppose plan to end fee refunds

UI students oppose plan to end fee refunds

URBANA — A plan to restructure student fees at the University of Illinois is being opposed by the campus student senate because it would convert several refundable fees to a new mandatory fee.

Administrators last week briefed a trustees committee on a plan to fold nine student fees totaling $73 — seven of them refundable, two mandatory — into one nonrefundable "student initiated fee" of $64. The fees support a variety of programs, from student organizations to study abroad scholarships to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Administrators bill it as "fee simplification and reform," noting that incoming students and parents have complained that the UI's myriad fees and tuition "differentials" are too complicated. The long-term plan is to simplify tuition rates as well, said Randall Kangas, associate vice president for planning and budgeting.

Refundable fees have proliferated in recent years and range from $2 to $15 a semester. Students can get refunds after the semester starts, and theoretically those students aren't eligible for the services provided by that money, such as discounts on tickets at Krannert.

But the fees have become an accounting headache, and the programs they fund don't know how much money to budget for because the number of refunds varies each year, said Associate Chancellor Mike Andrechak. Refunds have also risen in recent years as the UI simplified that process, he said.

The fee proposal was reviewed by student fee committees in December, and "there was general understanding of why we wanted to move forward," Andrechak said.

The Illinois Student Senate debated the issue a few days later, and while many speakers supported the idea, opinions were divided overall, said President David Pileski.

On Tuesday, the student senate took a stance against the proposal on a 21-2 vote.

"We support the oversight that the proposal calls for; however, we do not support making the fees nonrefundable, and moving forward with it, without the students voting in a referendum," Pileski said.

And if the plan moves forward, the resolution calls for the fees to be voted on every few years by students, as stipulated when they were created, he said.

Students planned to deliver copies of the resolution to trustees before Thursday's scheduled vote.

Pileski said groups funded by the fees favor the restructuring, but others are troubled "that students would be forced to pay fees for services they may or may not receive," Pileski said.

A former vice chancellor for student affairs, Stan Levy, wrote to Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy this week, arguing that the change violates agreements with "generations of students that these fees would be refundable."

"When students were asked to support fees above and beyond tuition, the campus had a clear and explicit understanding that those who did not support the project or activity would get a refund," Levy wrote. "Without this right to a refund, the student community would not have approved many of the fees."

They shouldn't become nonrefundable without an "explicit" vote by students, he said.

In September, students from organizations supported by the refundable fees tried to put a question on a campuswide ballot asking students if they'd support making them mandatory, Pileski said. But that effort, backed by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano, failed because they didn't gather enough signatures, he said.

Andrechak said administrators will listen to students if they want to eliminate one of the fees. He said student oversight of the fees also will be strengthened, as each will have an advisory committee with members recommended by the student senate. The fees also will fall under the Student Fee Advisory Committee that reviews other mandatory fees each year.

The refundable fees will be discounted by 13 percent next year, the average revenue lost to refunds, he added.

"Under this proposal, all students will have access to services while sharing in the savings from the lower fee," Andrechak said.

Andrechak said there were fewer fees when Levy was vice chancellor, and "the entire process was more manageable and less costly," he said.