Return-to-aid unnecessary for self-assessed fees

We pay a lot to this university: almost $5,000 per year in “education fees” alone.

Up to one-fourth of that may be going to the people sitting next to you. It’s called “return-to-aid,” a requirement that the University of California allocate 25 percent of every education fee increase to financial aid. This is supposed to help compensate low-income students whose current financial aid plans cannot keep up with rising education costs.

The university plans to expand this program in March, with a new proposal coming out of the UC Office of the President that would divert money to scholarships not only from educational fees, but also from self-imposed, student-initiated fees.

Return-to-aid stipulations are a reasonably fair method of spreading the burden of budget cuts. The fee increases hurt the students who can afford to be hurt, while helping those who absolutely cannot absorb another financial hit. Without return-to-aid, general fees for all students would be more affordable, perhaps 25 or 33 percent lower than they are now — but low-income students might be forced to drop out of school.

UCOP’s new proposal hurts everyone. It could force us to sacrifice a percentage of any UCSD-specific campus fee that we impose upon ourselves. In the past decade, UCSD undergraduates have voted countless small fee increases upon themselves, all of which would have been affected by the UCOP proposal had it been implemented earlier.

If the proposal had been in effect four years ago, 25 percent of the Price Center expansion money would be going toward financial aid instead of a new food court; 25 percent of the intercollegiate athletics fee would fund low-income scholarships and not UCSD’s sports teams; and 25 percent of each college council’s referendum-aided budget would be gone, making it difficult to fund their annual college-based concerts and semiformal dances. Imagine if Sun God festival was 25-percent smaller, or if recreation facilities cost students $345 per year instead of the current $276. That’s the choice UCOP is offering us: declining benefits, or a 25-percent hike in the rates we pay for them.

Return-to-aid requirements make some sense for university-imposed fees. The regents are raising those fees, not the students. Students have no control over the budget by which their educational fees are spent. And the fees are raised by so much in a single hike that they pose a dilemma to students who carefully budgeted their money for four-year stints at UCSD.

It makes sense that students receive aid to offset fee increases over which they have no control, but return-to-aid is ridiculous for self-imposed fees. Students vote these fees upon themselves. The $92-per-quarter recreational facility fee was approved by a student vote, as was the $37.50 Price Center fee, the $29 intercollegiate athletics fee, the $21 Associated Students campus activity fee and the activity fee at each of the six colleges. In cases such as these, it’s our own damn fault that we raise fees, so we do not deserve financial aid to compensate for them.

Also, the self-imposed campus fees are so small that earmarking 25 percent of them to scholarships would not really help low-income students. A Warren student pays only $4 per quarter to his student council; does he really need financial aid to cover that?

On the other hand, taking a dollar of each student’s fee away from the council would decrease its budget by around $12,000 per year — about the cost of the annual semiformal dance.

It hurts student life far more to grab a dollar for financial aid than it does to raise fees by a couple bucks.