Do students at University of Wisconsin System schools even know what the hundreds of dollars they pay annually in segregated fees go to?
That’s the question many of them could now be facing if a proposal in Governor Scott Walker’s 2017-2019 biennial state budget becomes law. As part of plan to usher in a 5 percent cut in tuition, Walker proposed allowing students to opt-out of paying for the allocated portion of their segregated fees.
“Allocable fees do not go towards long-term commitments or ongoing operational costs of university owned and controlled buildings,” a statement from the governor’s office read. “They provide support for campus student activities and services that are allocated by campus student government and university chancellors. Allowing an opt-out helps students make the decisions on what they do and do not want to fund.”
This is a key distinction for those who know UW-System finances. Segregated fees, which at some schools can add over $1,000 annually to a student’s higher education cost beyond those they pay for tuition, room, and board; are divided into two key area: Allocable and Non-Allocable.
Non-Allocable fees; which tend to deal with facilities management, student health services, intramural sports, and other general needs of the schools, are controlled by each school’s chancellor. Allocable fees pay for student services and student organizations and are controlled by each school’s student government.
By and large, the amount students pay for Non-Allocable fees far exceed the amount they pay for Allocable fees. Based on available figures from UW-Madison, students pay $6 in Non-Allocable fees for every $1 in Allocable fees or about $200 annually.
How this proposal is enacted by Gov. Walker has sent student governments and organizations scrambling to save their piece of the segregated fee pie. Shortly as Walker’s announcement, groups like the University of Wisconsin System Representatives, issued a statement to highlight all the good things segregated fees buy:
Student segregated fees are allocated by elected student governments and enable a wide range of services and student-life activities that everyone on campus can benefit from. They provide funding for key services that students can access free of charge, such as tutoring services, rape crisis centers, athletic programs, health services, cost-saving textbook rental programs, student-run radio stations, campus newspapers, and numerous services that facilitate student success. Additionally, student organizations funded by these fees are able to provide leadership and professional development opportunities which help to prepare students for the workforce.
That may all be true, but it is not the full story in regards to where all of these segregated fees are going to; particularly at UW-Madison where not every dollar can be said to do that. Case in point, two groups – SexOutLoud and MEChA – who do little to “provide leadership and professional development opportunities” or “prepare students for the workforce” based on their mission statement.
For instance “SexOutLoud” advertises itself as a group dedicated to “promote healthy sexuality through sex-positive education and activism,” claiming itself as nothing more than an adult version of the typical sex education class you had in Health Class years ago. But a look at its programs’ website uncovers one quickly graduates from basic sexual health, STDs, and birth control options to tips on how to please your lover in a bevvy of ways and positions, all the way to a class entitled “Kink 420,” a near-practical guide to BDSM.
Total organizational budget paid for by UW-Madison segregated fees in 2016-2017: $103,398.
Then there is the Movimiento Estuduantil Chicano de Aztlan, or M.E.Ch.A, which has been getting a portion of UW-Madison’s segregated fees for a number of years. Whether the UW-Madison communities knows it or not, the origins of M.E.Ch.A are remain highly controversial, particularly its stances of emphasizing “La Raza” or “The Race,” its belief in Aztlan (the idea of reclaiming the American Southwest for people of Aztec and Mayan descent), and severe nationalist ties. Even the group’s mission statement could seen as eyebrow raising.
M.E.Ch.A. was founded on the principles of self-determination for the liberation of our people.
“Liberation of our people” from what exactly?
Total amount of segregated fees given to the organization for the 2016-2017 academic year: $87,248.
While the dollars given to these two organizations may seem trivial, they are prime examples of the type of fiscal mismanagement student governments have practiced when allocating student segregated fees. Mismanagement which is likely not isolated to UW-Madison, with plenty of examples waiting to be uncovered on the other UW System campuses and is raises a legitimate question whether students and parents want their money going to these organizations.