In a move that could potentially raise the funds available to student advocacy groups at California State University campuses, the CSU Board of Trustees adopted the Student Involvement and Representation Fee (SIRF) that could stabilize funding for the student associations.
The proposal, which had been in the works for some time and was initiated by student leaders on the campus of California State University Long Beach, will charge an optional $2 fee per term to all CSU students. The fee, which will take effect in Fall of this year will provide students with the chance to opt-out. Executive Director of the California State Student Association (CSSA) Miles Nevin said if all students opt in, this could mean expanding the current CSSA budget by more than double.
“If every CSU student pays the fee, our budget will be about 1.7 million,” Nevin said. “We do anticipate that many students will in fact pay the fee, for a couple reasons; it’s modest, it’s only $2 per term, and two, it goes to such a good cause. It goes to the only avenue that students have to be involved in the system and in the state.”
Currently, the CSSA gets about half of its funds from fees assessed to on campus student government membership fees with the remainder of its available funds coming from annual allocations from the CSU chancellor.
The increased budget could mean expanded opportunities for students to have their voices heard in Sacramento, the ability to place more students on committees to discuss important issues at the chancellor’s office and the hiring of more student interns and assistants. It can also mean that more leaders will be able to travel to development conferences and participate in policy development which can range from textbook affordability and sustainable campuses to improving graduation rates.
“That just means more outcomes that benefit students,” Nevin said. “Being decisions that are made on policies or bills that were able to get passed, we do think that we’re going to be able to identify a lot of metrics that show the benefit of this new once its implemented."
"It is a significant expansion, but it was a necessary because we’re the largest statewide student association organization, yet we’re one that has one of the smallest budgets," he said. "This is designed to expand us in a meaningful way that was really adequate to serve one of the largest states. Certainly the one with the most public universities.”
Sarah Couch, a graduate student at California State University Sacramento and former CSSA President said that the only way to continue to keep state legislators in the know about issues affecting students is to keep a strong and well funded student voice present and at the table.
“We’ve educated the legislature about issues facing the CSU and its students, such as impacted classes, shortage of financial aid officers, unsafe classrooms, and much more,” Couch said in a statement. “It’s crucial that there is always an avenue for students to carry legislation or work directly with the chancellor and board of trustees on important issues, and the only way that happens is by sustaining an independent and strong CSSA.”
The move was pushed forward by students on the Long Beach campus in 2013, approved by the CSSA Board of Directors in January 2014 and ultimately adopted today. The choice to make the SIRF voluntary was a careful decision to not scare away support with the "F" word every student dreads: fee. Still, Nevin said that out of the 23 CSU campuses, only two schools spoke against the move to pass it.
CSSA Chief Governmental Officer Meredith Turner told the Golden Gate Xpress, the student newspaper at San Francisco State University, that the small fee of $2 per semester will go a long way toward securing their future in having a voice in the decision making processes at the State and local levels.
“There’s no going around it,” Turner told the Xpress. “If you’re asking students for money to support something, it’s a fee. However, SIRF is unique. It’s small so it doesn’t burden students and unlike many other fees, these few dollars from every student will ensure that students’ priorities, like the cost of college, accessibility, class availability and many more are consistently raised with state legislators and with the Chancellor and Board of Trustees.”
The CSSA was founded in 1958 and helps to propel legislation and CSU policies that represent the students’ interests. The association is the only collective student voice in California for the CSU students and is recognized by the government, trustees and board members.
Some of the accomplishments to date include the successful fight to implement fee installment plans for students and placing two student trustees on the CSU board. The trustees serve overlapping 2 year terms, with the trustee serving their second term having the ability to cast votes at the meetings held six times a year, but more importantly, having those votes carry the same weight as the other board members.