Op-Ed: Abolish the $5 fee

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 2:05pm

I’ll admit something that I don’t usually say about my student representatives in Central Student Government. I was pleasantly surprised and excited when I first heard about the Leadership Engagement Scholarship that was started in the fall semester. As someone who is very involved on campus, I am more than familiar with the struggles of running from meeting to meeting with little break, and am even more familiar with the frequent choice between being involved on campus and working to make ends meet. This scholarship would really help someone like me, who feels the need to work their way through college as their parents did, but also wants to be involved in organizations on campus that supplement learning.

My excitement about the scholarship is what led me to be sorely disappointed to read that CSG would charge students $5 a semester to endow the scholarship. This regressive tax on students will harm those who need it the most. By choosing to charge a fee, CSG has taken the easy route to funding this scholarship, rather than internal budgeting or external fundraising. CSG has violated its core mission to represent the interests of all students, and in doing so has raised the cost of attendance at the University of Michigan — limiting the ability of its constituents to attend and thrive in college.

While CSG acts as if this fee is inconsequential, the reality of a $40 charge over an undergraduate’s career at the University will disproportionately affect lower-income students, especially those who are taking loans and will pay interest on the fees down the road. According to a survey conducted by CSG, 75 percent of its members come from families making more than $100,000 a year and thus will never be able to understand the full impact of their fee increases. Though this resolution passed nearly unanimously, the voices of lower-income students — who these fees will affect most — were omitted.

Opposition to this fee was best summarized by Rackham Rep. Andy Snow, who said the tax points out the hypocrisy of CSG representatives saying, “I don’t see fundamentally how so many of us can be against tuition hikes and increases and still be in support of this.” A regressive tax on students who most need the scholarship won’t do anything to confront the increasing costs of higher education. Additionally, on Thursday, Regent Andrea Fischer-Newman tweeted that she would not be in support of a raise in fees to fund the LES.

What’s more alarming is that the scholarship is skewed in favor of well-endowed student organizations that do not need financial support from CSG. The scholarship could be a wonderful opportunity to push CSG funding to financially struggling student organizations. Instead, the scholarship will prioritize students who will not be able to participate in student organizations without funding help. While this sounds like a good thing on the surface, prioritizing “pay to play” organizations such as Greek life and club sports does not work to solve the underlying issues of socioeconomic diversity and the high cost of college that have prevented students from joining student organizations in the past. The University was recently rated the least socioeconomically diverse public university in the nation, and that designation won’t go away by raising the cost of attendance in favor of the 10 to 15 chosen students who receive the LES scholarship.

While CSG decries tuition increases and tries to make the cost of school lower through various resolutions, it seems to have no problem raising fees for a scholarship that doesn’t seem worth it. I am opposed to the $5 fee, and I urge CSG and the Board of Regents to do everything in their power to keep the costs of higher education low by repealing the fee and confronting the increasing costs of higher education across the board. For CSG to use the term “tool of equity” to describe this scholarship, it must come from a place that legitimately helps students of a lower socioeconomic status thrive at the University.  

Kevin Sweitzer is an Editorial Board member.