Student implemented fee could solve budget shortfall

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University President Robert Vartabedian said Friday that the missing piece to the budget problem is a potential student-implemented fee.

While addressing a forum of students, staff and faculty, Vartabedian delivered information on Western’s cuts from state appropriations. To make up some of the lost revenue, Vartabedian said that he hoped student leaders will vote on a fee soon.

Student-implemented fees, something that many institutions in Missouri are already using, are a source of revenue that Vartabedian feels will benefit the students more than an increase in tuition.

“I would much rather our students understand the circumstances and vote in student approved fees which get in under the radar and not suffer the consequences of raising tuition,” Vartabedian said.

Western’s budget cut has been reduced from 12.5 percent to 7.8 percent.The new cut translates to $1.9 million. In addition to $1.5 million in ‘unfunded mandatories,’ Western faces a budget shortfall of $3.4 million. An increase in tuition, which is restricted by Senate Bill 389, would yield only $725,000 in new revenue.

“We’re at least moving in the right direction,” Vartabedian said. This budget isn’t final, and still must be approved by the state legislature.

Years of diminishing state appropriations have forced Western to cut 30 percent from the operating budget, cut scholarships, freeze salaries since 2009, increase class sizes, increase the use of adjunct faculty, postpone routine maintenance and repair and reduce custodial services among other cuts.

“What I tell legislators and other people, ‘If we were crying wolf, wouldn’t we certainly had given ourselves at least a symbolic raise in the last three—going on four—years?’” Vartabedian said.

A student-implemented fee would mean that students would be able to designate what the money goes toward. Student Government Association President Alison Norris said that she wants to inform and listen to the students before bringing the fee to a vote.

“We’re not just going to bring it to Senate and say, ‘let’s vote on it,’” Norris said. “Before we would ever do that we would we would have forums, pass out pamphelpets and find out what the students want.”

Norris said that the vote could go to either student Senate or to the whole student body along with the spring elections. Students could also have a voice in how the money gets used.

Senator Mary-Beth Rosenauer thinks that it would be more fair to have a student vote, but only if the there was a large student turnout.

“In an ideal world, it should be a student vote,” Rosenauer said. “Because as a whole it is affecting the students. Now the problem comes that it’s not an ideal world, and are the students going to vote on such a matter.”

Director of Finance Taylor Kram supports a vote from the Senate only because she believes that is the role that the senators were elected for.

“I feel like the senators were voted and made a senate to be the voice of the student body.” Kram said. “I feel like they are well-educated and understand what the student body wants and needs, but when is comes down to it, that’s who votes.”

Kram compared the student Senate to the Electoral College in the U.S. presidential general election, in the fact that the students vote on the senators to represent them.

“Sometimes students tend to see things very one-sided,” Kram said. “Students are going to look at the picture and say, ‘well, I don’t want to pay more money.’”

Travis Hart, vice chair of the governmental relations and campus communications committee, also believes that the vote should remain within the Senate. He also compared the student Senate to a national governing organization, the U.S. Congress.

“The United States Congress, they don’t go to they don’t go to the citizens for a tax increase,” Hart said. “I think that student senators should get the opinions of the students.”

Hart believes the Senate can make the best decision after listening to the students. He also attributed the need for a Senate vote to previous low voter turnout.

“Senators have the student’s best interest at heart, and we need to make the right decision for everyone for the whole student body not to let the people—how many people vote out of 200—decide for the fee.”

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