In response to the rising cost of exercise classes in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government launched a program in conjunction with Michigan Recreational Sports last semester to eliminate barriers to physical and social wellness for low-income students. CSG received more than 140 applications for the 75 passes for the winter semester.
In August, Central Student Government began subsidizing Group X passes for Pell Grant-eligible students. Last semester, CSG received 40 applications for the 75 available passes in fall.
Group X passes provide students access to all fitness classes on campus, totaling more than 100 classes per week. The group classes range include cycling, yoga and zumba.
CSG President Ben Gerstein, Public Policy junior, said when a member of the CSG Affordability Task Force and a member of Affordable Michigan recommended that CSG subsidize Group X passes, he integrated the policy into his campaign platform. Gerstein said he has worked with the Dean of Students and Michigan Recreational Sports to eliminate barriers to physical fitness for students.
“In working with Financial Aid and Rec Sports, we tried to create something that made sure that access to something that’s as important as physical fitness wasn’t privileged based on socioeconomic background,” Gerstein said.
CSG has been criticized in the past for its actions surrounding affordability. In 2018, the organization released a campus affordability guide that was deemed “out of touch” by students and prompted the creation of the crowdsourced “Being Not-Rich at U-M” guide.
In an email to The Daily, Social Work student Laura Rall, Affordable Michigan president, said CSG subsidizing the $55 Group X pass can mitigate obstacles to physical fitness for students who need to first pay for food, tuition and bills.
“(Group X is) a great program, in my experience, but the classes often leave out low-income students because of the expense,” Rall wrote. “With CSG offering these subsidized passes, I feel as though the campus is becoming a more inclusive and welcoming to low-income students.”
While the program is currently only available to students who are eligible for Pell Grants, Gerstein said he recognizes there are other groups on campus who still find the cost of the Group X pass to be prohibitive.
“I want to look into how we can build this model out to include students who aren’t just necessarily on Pell Grants, but on other forms of financial aid, and then also to make sure we are including our undocumented students, international students who don’t have access to government financial aid in the United States, but still need access to these resources,” Gerstein said.
Mental health poses challenges of its own for students. Recreational Sports Director Mike Widen said the partnership between Recreational Sports and CSG to subsidize Group X passes is a proactive way to help students improve mental health through physical activity.
“I would imagine that (students) are certainly thrilled with the ability to get a group exercise pass without having the barrier of finances coming in the way,” Widen said. “That allows them to be more physically active, allows them to connect with other students who have a like-mindedness that, hey, I want to be physically active too, and that connection can help with the social component of the model of well-being.”
Widen touched on another component of the program’s efforts to be inclusive — the passes are no different than non-subsidized passes to protect the confidentiality of students. He said he sees the program as a partnership between two organizations dedicated to improving student wellness and accessibility.
“(The program) has been a win-win,” Widen said. “And the more access (students) can get to more opportunities, I think everybody benefits.”
Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.