DSL Releases Break-down of Student Life Fee; UA is Surprised

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Recently released data from DSL provides the much-awaited breakdown of MIT’s student life fee. $1.1M goes to DAPER.
Source: Tom Gearty, Division of STudent Life

After several years of inquiry from the Undergraduate Association and The Tech, the office for the Dean for Student life released the breakdown of the student life fee last Tuesday.

The student life fee increased to $272 this year, up $22 from last year’s $250. This is the third year in a row that the fee has been increased. Both undergraduate and graduate students pay this fee to support student services.

The $22 is split into $14 for student government and activities, and $8 for athletics, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo told The Tech in June.

The distribution of the $22 came as a surprise to the Undergraduate Association, which hastily revised its budget in response last week, accounting for additional funding.

Undergraduate Association President Michael A. Bennie ’10 wrote to the UA Senate that the announcement “has a MAJOR impact on our fall budget. Our funding has increased by $35,000 over last year (a little over a 13 percent increase to the annual UA budget).”

Bennie said that “the first $20,000 will primarily be passed on to student groups,” and “the remainder, $15,000, will be used for the institutionalization of Student-Faculty Dinners. This immensely popular program allows five students to take a faculty member out to dinner and serves as a valuable form of informal advising.”

Budget Issues Lead to Increase

The fee has increased for two main reasons, said Peter D. Cummings, Senior Director for Finance for the Division of Student Life: summer athletics support and other budget cuts.

In 2007, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) instituted a $40 fee to support summer access to Athletics facilities. The Graduate Student Council strongly opposed the fee, and successfully lobbied for its removal, but that left DAPER with less money.

“It’s a convenience issue” said Cummings, noting that not everyone who attends MIT is just here for the academic year.

“Graduate students get 12 month leases” for housing, he said, and suddenly not being able to use the athletic facilities is a “big interruption.” Their lifestyle, at least in terms of the time they spend on campus, is “fundamentally different” than that of the undergraduate population.

The second reason for the increase is to combat budget cuts, Cummings said.

With the recent economic downturn, the “opportunity for receiving any increases are going to be gone for a very long time,” Cummings said. Raising the fee now is “preemptive to protect our base of funds.” This money will allow groups that “need [discretionary] funding” to get it if they need it.

For instance, Cummings said, if an athletic team were to do very well and make it to playoffs, MIT has no money set aside for the team to take a trip.

“Teams aren’t budgeted for playoffs” Cummings said. Traveling is only possible through the discretionary funds made available through the fee.

The fee was first raised in 2006 to fund construction for DAPER. It was raised again in 2007 to account for inflation.

Prior to 2007, there was “no mechanism” for increasing the fee, Cummings said. Departments would just ask for more funding and the fee would be increased by a dollar or so. It was “a very incremental way of doing things” said Cummings.

How The Fee is Split

Today, the fee is split up through a series of meetings with the UA, GSC, Colombo, and Dean for Graduate Education Steven R. Lerman ’72. This year’s increase of $22 was agreed to at a meeting of the Academic Council last December. But, there was no clear agreement on how the increase was to be distributed until DSL’s announcement last week.

Money from the student life fee is divided between MIT Medical, DAPER, the Dean for Student Life, the Graduate Education, undergraduate activities, and student activities.

MIT Medical’s portion goes towards supporting Mental Health services and DAPER’s portion goes towards the Zesiger Center.

The dean’s portion of the fee is left for discretionary funding.

The undergraduate activities portion encompasses the UA and the class councils, as well as the UA Finance Board (Finboard). Student activities includes events like spring weekend and fall festival.

The student life fee was instituted in 2002 to support the newly opened Z-Center. “We weren’t going to charge a membership fee for students” Cummings said. The administration instead decided to have a student life fee for students that included DAPER and other things and only charge faculty and staff membership.

The fee is covered by financial aid for students who qualify.