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Davis, California

Monday, April 22, 2024

Where does the money go?

Hannah Lee / AGGIE
Hannah Lee / AGGIE

Breaking down the difference between tuition, Student Services Fees, campus-based fees

University of California (UC) students are not so different from one another; whether attending school in Davis, Berkeley or LA, all UC students pay a baseline cost for education. Tuition, along with the Student Services Fee (SSF), is set by the UC Regents and is the same across all campuses.

California residents pay an annual fee of $11,220 in tuition to attend a UC school as undergraduate students. This amounts to 80 percent of the annual fees of attending UC Davis for California residents. The remaining 20 percent is comprised of the SSF — set at $1,074 — along with a number of campus-based fees that vary at each UC institution.

As a state university, all UC’s are also state-supported. Sarah Mangum, the director of Academic Budget and Policy, pointed out that funding from the State of California to the UC system as a share of the universities’ budgets has decreased over the past decade.

“There [were] big cuts about five years ago,” Mangum said in an e-mail interview. “For example, in 2007-2008, state funds made up 17 percent of our total revenue, now they are 9 percent.”

Tuition and state funds make up the pool of money that goes toward the university’s educational mission, supporting teaching, public service and research. Examples of this instructional support include faculty salary and benefits, teaching assistants and readers, as well as classroom infrastructure such as audio-visual equipment.

“There’s an Office of the President policy called Return-to-Aid,” Mangum said. “Approximately 30 percent of all tuition for undergraduates goes right back into financial aid. The rest of [tuition] goes toward supporting the cost of teaching.”

Return-to-Aid is governed by policies of the UC Office of the President and the UC Board of Regents and is applied to tuition on all UC campuses. At UC Davis, most student fees have a Return-to-Aid component.

Non-academic services are funded by the SSF. These services support students through activities like counseling, advising and tutoring. A small portion of the SSF, $61 per student, funds mental health services.

Campus-based fees are the services students pay for besides tuition and the SSF. This includes the ASUCD, Memorial Union, Facilities and Campus Enhancement (FACE), Campus Expansion Initiative (CEI), Student Services Maintenance/Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI), Student Facilities Safety, Student Services Health (not to be confused with the SSF mental health fee), Unitrans, the Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) and The California Aggie Fees, totalling $1,753.

Nearly all of these fees were approved by student leadership and votes. The student fee initiative process at UC Davis is overseen by The Council on Student Affairs and Fees (COSAF), which follows a guide when reviewing the creation of a student fee initiative. After endorsement by COSAF, the student body votes during Winter Quarter ASUCD election. If approved, the initiative is reviewed by the vice chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, the UC Davis budget officer and finally the UC Davis chancellor. It ultimately reaches the UC Office of the President, where final approval is granted by the Office of the Regents.

Essentially, passing a student referendum on fees is an extensive and time-consuming process.

“A lot of misconception about the COSAF council is that we change student fees, which is not what we do at all,” said Madeline Garcia, a fourth year political science major and co-chair of COSAF. “COSAF […] decide[s] for the three fees that have an inflationary index whether or not to apply a consumer price index adjustment. [If COSAF recommends to the chancellor that CPI be applied] then [that will] make the purchasing power from last year the same this year [to] keep [the] programming going. The chancellor has never gone against what [COSAF] suggests. [An initiative without] a CPI adjustment has less money to spend, but [COSAF is] not taking away money.”

The three fees COSAF annually reviews are those that lack a sunset clause, which means there is no set limit to these student fees. FACE, CEI and SASI have an inflammatory index and were all passed with the ability to increase with inflation. It is the role of COSAF to maintain the integrity of student’s interests and desires throughout the duration of these initiatives. Another entity responsible for the checks and balances of student fees is ASUCD.

“[ASUCD represents] every student, and I’m sure there are many departments saying ‘How are my dollars being spent?’’ said Greg Ortiz, ASUCD advisor to the Athletics and Administrative Advisory Committees. “[ASUCD is] making sure that if there’s money involved, [it’s being] used well.”

Understanding the sources and allocation of money on campus becomes even more nuanced with the consideration of increased enrollment. It seems as though the services paid for by student fees should benefit from increased enrollment, but that is not always the case.

“The most counterintuitive thing about higher education increased enrollment right now is that, even though there are more people coming and paying fees, [our] level of service is going backwards — it’s declining,” said ASUCD President Alex Lee.

An example of this is Unitrans, a service sewn in the fabric of Davis culture since 1968. Unitrans has multiple revenue sources, receiving about $99 from each student per year through CEI, ASUCD and its own exclusive Unitrans fee. This amounts to $2.7 million from student fees. The rest of its $5 million budget comes from a combination of grant funds from the City of Davis, federal funds, sales tax and miscellaneous revenue like bus fares from non-student riders.

With more students comes more money, so why is Unitrans already digging into its reserves?

Despite what sounds like a large income, the state’s unprecedented and rapid increase of the minimum wage is causing the bus service to rely on every penny of its funds. Unitrans has the third largest ridership in the California, and students are beginning to notice that some routes are becoming increasingly impacted. More riders means more service and, therefore, costs more money to meet demand. The task now is to find an equitable option for students in order to keep such a valuable service.

“And that’s the thing,” said Anthony Palmere, general manager of Unitrans. “At some point you don’t know what’s the straw that’s too much to know so that you’ve kind of drawn the line. [Unitrans] certainly recognizes there’s a limit, and that’s why we’re trying to have the conversations early to know [how] we can keep the service going.”


Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org  


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