Student Activity Fee Increase
Portland Community College students are facing another increase in the cost of getting an education over the next biennium. The Student Activity Fee (SAF) is currently set at $3.15 per credit, which translates to a per-term cost of $37.80 for students taking 12 credits or $113.40 annually. The $0.25 proposed increase would bring the per-credit total to $3.40, or $40.80 and $122.40, respectively. PCC students also recently saw a tuition increase. So, what do students receive for all these costs they incur?
The SAF largely bears the brunt of the cost for student resources. Among those benefits are funding for: the Student Leadership Program; the various Diversity Retention Resource Centers (WRC, QRC, VRC, DREAM Center, etc.); food and housing insecurity initiatives like the Panther Pantries, Emergency Grants, and Emergency Bus Passes. The newspaper you’re reading and the labor that goes into making it is funded largely by a grant from the ASPCC!
Most importantly, the SAF pays the salaries and benefits for the eight professional staff that according to the DSC “provide guidance, continuity, connections, knowledge, support, and help with policy and institutional navigation” that is instrumental to its and other student leadership organization’s to address, represent and meet students’ needs. Moreover, the 160 Student Help employees who work a cumulative 70,000 hours per year are paid for their service through SAF funds. So as labor costs increase– the minimum wage is set to increase by $1.25 by 2020 — so must the SAF.
The DSC’s proposal to President Mitsui’s Cabinet makes a strong case for an increase to the SAF: it provides funding for essential services used by the students; increased costs will increase budgetary constraints on programs and services that desperately need more funding; and projected revenue decreases (3% decline in enrollment for 2019 and another 3% for 2020) will further exacerbate the budgets for these resources.
PCC and the student body are largely in agreement that diversity retention, food and housing insecurity, eco-social justice, civic engagement, and student representation are essential to students’ success on their terms. Yet somehow there is a disconnect between what students’ needs are, the college’s path forward, and how to pay for it all. PCC seems to agree that students want and should have these resources for their success and personal development, but has not found a way to build their funding into the college’s General Fund.
Many of the SAF-funded resources provide opportunities for students that directly translate into employment skills that are nearly impossible to obtain through the normal didactic experience. Students get hands-on experience in leadership roles that a classroom is incapable of providing. The fabled employment skills promised to young people weighing the costs and benefits of a college education rather than entering the workforce debt-free.
It stands to reason that whether the money to pay for these services comes from the SAF or from tuition that students will incur the costs. There’s no money tree or gold mine that PCC is selfishly hoarding to line its pockets at the expense of its constituents. However, the underlying message that can be discerned from PCC’s choice to exclude the SAF-funded resources from tuition proper is that these fees are for non-essential services [and staff].
Resources that benefit from SAF funding are subject to budget approval annually. Any program or service that falls into this domain does not have guaranteed funding. Many of these beneficiaries’ budgets are rubber stamped for approval, however, funding can fluctuate depending on the crisis-du-jour (bad economy, decreased enrollment, administrative disposition, etc.) Even The Bridge has experienced budgetary fluctuations (usually decreases) since the SAF began contributing to its budget. PCC needs to listen to the voices of its students – its constituents and customer base – and secure general funds for the resources that have proven to be essential to student success. It’s time to guarantee these services. We have made the call. It’s time for the college to listen.