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Fees by the student, for the student: Understanding the Student Success Act

Rarely do college students decide that college should cost even more than it already does, but students at Missouri Western did just that several years ago.

The Student Success Act (formerly known as the Save Our School Act) is a student -imposed fee that has collected over $2 million dollars from students over the few years it has been around. Created in 2012, the fee charges $75 to full-time students per semester, $50 to part-time students and $25 for summer semesters.

Put in place by student government and not a student body vote, the fee helps to fund a variety of student services. Current SGA Vice President Brad Stanton said threats at the time of cuts to the university’s budget led to the creation of the SSA fee.

“What was happening was that the state government was threatening budget cuts to basically all the universities [in Missouri], and Missouri Western determined that those budget cuts would have to come from cutting student services,” Stanton said. “So, SGA, at the time, said that was not acceptable and created this fee to take the place of those budget cuts, which would save services like the Center of Student Engagement, the Center for Multicultural Education and some of those offices that aren’t really core to the academic experience but are core to the student experience.”

Those budget cuts ultimately did not happened but the SSA fee remained in place. The fee then changed its purpose.

“The budget cut never came,” Stanton said, “so the fee was still put in place and since it meant to save student services in the beginning, now we decided to transition to kind of the model of supporting student services.”

Since its inception, SSA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a variety of projects. SSA was initially intended to help fund five key areas: recreation services, Center for Academic Support, student success and advising, student life and leadership and career services.

Over time, however, that seemed to change as SSA funds were used to fund everything from International Student Services, Baker Fitness equipment rentals, nursing services at Esry, theater productions, parking lot renovations, library updates, student life programming and career development events.

The current fiscal year (FY16) allocated $70,000 to Baker Fitness for new equipment rentals and $60,000 went to Esry Health Center to extend hours and contract-in a registered nurse. After much debate, it also allocated money was also allocated to help fund a renovation project of Blum Union as well as a renovation of the leaking Looney Pool.

Who decides?
How much SSA money gets allocated and where it gets allocated is decided by the Student Fee Advisory Committee.

The committee is comprised of six members and is meant to represent both the student and the university sides of how the money should be spent. Three of the members are students picked by the SGA president. The other three are administration members picked by the University president. Once the committee reaches an agreement on how the money is to be allocated, it is submitted to SGA Senate to approve or deny. If it passes SGA, the proposal is then sent to the University President to be approved or vetoed.

SGA administrative coordinator Jessica Frogge said that having students on the committee allows them to have a voice in what happens on campus.

“I think our view with this funding is to be able to say, ‘hey, this is what students want,’” Frogge said. “This is our control of this money to fix what students are wanting, not administration saying this is what we think students want. So it gives students a little more control over being able to use it for things that they feel they want changed on campus.”

Frogge said having the administration on the committee provides another perspective into how to spend the money.

“It is also nice to have the administration in on this committee because sometimes they see needs that students don’t, because students are only here for four years,” Frogge said. “A lot of times, even the students up here in student government change from year to year, so having the administration here to say ‘hey, we really see this need and we really feel like students would benefit from this,’ so it’s nice to have their input.”

SGA Senator Haden McDonald was one of the three students who represented Missouri Western students by serving on the SSA advisory committee last year. At times, representing the student body as a whole was difficult, McDonald said.

“Between the three of us [students], we always had different ideas and there were a few times where we all agree on the same idea, but not always,” McDonald said. “That was a little hard on us because the question becomes who are we representing. We’re not supposed to be representing ourselves. We’re supposed to be representing the students. Then the question is what do the students think.”

Not only is there difficulty in getting students to agree, but so is getting the committee as a whole to do the same. When a proposal came from the administration for SSA funds to help finance part of the renovations to Spratt Stadium, the student portion of the committee rejected it.

“So I think the administration was trying to put money to fund large items that, I think, they saw as things that students do use, but not necessarily student success,” McDonald said. “When we went in there, all three students agreed that student success was going to be a priority. That if we’re going to fund anything, it needs to be student success.”

McDonald said that while good has come about from the fee, there were times in the past when SSA funding went to things other than student success related programs.

“I think we provided funding for things like parking lot renovations outside of Baker and I wouldn’t consider these deferred maintenance type issues as things that go toward student success,” McDonald said. “Those are things that should be addressed by the university and not a student fee. The CAS got carpet and that’s questionable. It’s borderline because the CAS is helpful for the students and that’s nice, but does the carpet in the CAS help the students? It’s things like that is a question of should a student fee be paying for it.”

Is SSA here to stay?
While there has been some tension over the allocation of the fee and the fee itself over the years, it seems like the SSA fee will be around for years to come since there are no initiatives to alter or repeal it.

SGA Vice President Brad Stanton supports the fee and said that it is important to remember what the SSA funds when discussing the fee’s future.

“Just really being able to sustain the student services that we need and then also building new projects is great for a university that’s so poorly funding,” Stanton said. “Having this pool of money, I think, is worth the $75 [a semester] when you’re getting a whole new building, you’re getting a completely renovated pool and things like that. You’re getting these student services that you can use for free. I think it’s worth it. I think it’s a good fee.”

Likewise, Frogge said eliminating the SSA fee would likely cause more fees to take its place.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s a fee that students should really give up… I feel like if this fee is taken away, you’re going to start to see fees like a health fee tacked on and other fees may eventually come about to help with more student[-focused] things,” Frogge said. “If you want to continue to see more student upgrades of what students want, then this fee is a good thing. And compared to other universities, I don’t feel like our fees are high and our cost of tuition is a lot lower. I feel like taking away this fee is kind of taking away the power of change on campus from the students.”

While SSA may provide students a way to change things on campus, others like McDonald feel that the Student Success Act itself needs to change.

“So, I would say that for the most part, it [SSA money] has gone toward student success, but there are still some times when it didn’t and that’s what needs to be changed for the future,” McDonald said. “I really hope that SGA makes that effort as a whole to change SSA to redefine it to go towards student success and only student success.”

As for now, there are no concrete plans to change or repeal the SSA fee, ensuring that student success will be a topic of discussion for years to come.

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