Today (5/11/20) I read one of the opinion piece “Change My Mind: UCSD Should not Lower Tuition and Fees due to COVID-19.” I felt that the post was inadequate in its argument and had some arguable points and flaws. Here is my opinion on the COVID-19 situation and how I felt UCSD and the UC system in general failed both the student population and faculty.
I had many discussions about the relief or refund of the student activity fees with my parents. I feel that university is largely unjust in taking my student fees while campus is closed. My father thinks otherwise. He explained this in an analogy (although he, too, pays for paying some of it). It goes something like this:
Dad: “For any car to be on the road, the owner of the car needs to pay car registration fees to the DMV, regardless of whether that car is in use or not. Like right now, when there is a limited permission for people to be outside and traveling around, drivers still need to pay for the car registration, because the roads are there whether you like it or not, and they need to be fixed, maintained, and used, if not by you, then by someone else.”
But there is a logical flaw to this analogy he made to UCSD’s student activity fees. The public road, freeways and highways can still be used if I choose to during the stay-at-home order. During any point of the quarantine, the driver has the freedom to be on the roads. But the library, gyms, classrooms, university centers and its events are not available during this time. Even if we choose and want to use it, we cannot, because these facilities are closed due to the pandemic. This unavailability of service is why I am making a case for a refund of the student activity fees, even if it is partial, as well as addressing the university’s bigotry of less fees equals to laying off workers, putting the burden of facility and staff management on students rather than their incompetent decisions before the pandemic.
University of California collects these “student activity fees” every quarter. UCSD’s student financial solution lists these fees as Student Service Fees, Campus activity fees, University Center fee, ICA Student Activity fees. These fees range from $200 a year to more than $1,000 a year, depending on what they are. There are very little explanations for these fees, TritonLink puts vague language such as “construction and operation of the Student Centers,” and “services that benefit the student.” I had contacted the student business center in my first year to ask about these fees. The student employees as well as the staff were not able to give me a clear explanation but reiterated that these fees had to be paid to register for the classes. Summing up the university fees give roughly $2,000 a year per student and estimating forty thousand students in UCSD gives a whopping $80 million just by student fees alone.
Despite paying these large sums of money, many students do not know where these fees are headed. One example is the college activities fees. During Earl Warren College’s vote on returning the $9 student activity fee, I discovered that 23% of Warren’s college activity fee was going to financial aid. I do not think that financial aid should be getting less funding; I, too, receive financial aid from UCSD. However, I am more concerned about the fact that students do not know where these funds are headed once we pay them every quarter.
During a regular school year, we have the option of participating in many student events, going to the gym, attending classes in a classroom, going to the Geisel to study, or utilizing many services that UCSD has to offer. Some of these services are still virtually functional. However, many of these services UCSD offers has now been shut down, including facilities, library, gym, and classrooms, and a refund of student fees should reflect the unavailability of the services that are provided to the students. With no students, there wouldn’t be a need for lights, nor projectors, speakers, automatic doors, elevators, air conditioners, or bathroom use, which can be returned to the students. University’s claim that the student fees are needed to maintain the buildings are rather illogical, considering that they are unused entirely by the student body.
In response to the issue of unemployment due to refunding of the fees, I agree that unemployment is a valid and national concern. I am an employee who was asked to not come because of the pandemic, and my parents are home without pay, relying on the government assistance because their workplace closed with COVID. However, I still think there is room for refunding fees. I do not believe that the entirety of $2,000 is used for hiring employees. This is where the title of the article should have been used: “Change My Mind: I do not think UC needs $2k per student to keep its employees.” In fact, I am afraid that these giveaways that various student services are having on social media may be the replacement for the student activity fees. Although giveaways are slightly better than having Zoom yoga and at-home craft lessons for $2,000 a year, I would prefer that these fees be returned to the students instead. I am disappointed at the university’s decision to hold such mundane “events” and perhaps try to justify collecting the student fees. In that case, students essentially “bought” our raffle tickets, and for the high ticket price, I would rather use that at a casino instead for similar odds, or better yet, use it for our daily needs like rent, food, or paying back unsubsidized loans.
Thus, the call for a refund of these fees is rather a protest against how the university was not transparent about how these fees are used, and to use the clause of furloughing workers for the refund of these fees feel like an unreasonable demand and a tantrum by the UC system.
The issue of refunding fees is bigger than returning the fees itself; it is an issue rising out of the university’s neglect on the students’ well-being before the pandemic, and the administrators’ focus on raising revenue through more constructions while bringing down the quality of student life even before COVID-19 had started. The complaints start with the issues of parking fee
adjustment during summer, overcrowding in the public transport throughout the year, plans for 7th and 8th college, high-revenue and mandated dining hall system, restricting on-campus housing guarantees as well as maximum units for financial aid, and refusing COLA for graduate students. Complaints against UCSD’s actions continue down a very long list, and show the university’s reluctance, as well as the UC Regents’ disinterest in student well-being and students’ rights, and their desire to pursue revenue over the students they are to serve in public universities. Thus, when these universities cry for help and funding during difficult times, students are more reluctant to say yes, because the university had forsaken the students first.
The article also mentions the student activity fees will not be impacting the low-income students, to win the pathos of the readers. The mention of UC Blue and Gold program is valid, as UC Blue and Gold scholarship does provide for the low-income students. However, I would like to mention that to my knowledge, and confirmed by a financial aid officer, UC Blue and Gold scholarship is essentially CalGrant aid. When a student is not eligible to get the CalGrant, but qualifies in low-income status, Blue and Gold scholarship acts as the replacement to cover the tuition-related expenses. Cal-Grant, however, is only eligible for covering the tuition part of the bill. Essentially, Blue and Gold does not pay for the student activity fees, but some of the other grants help pay the fees, including a combination of Pell Grant (FAFSA), and UCSD grant, which were not mentioned in the article.
I am ultimately vouching for the students who will be leaving the university with substantial student debt. Many students will not realize the extent of the student debt’s power in the adult years. For government-subsidized loans, students must begin paying the debt back with interest six months after graduation (without referral due to approved causes), and unsubsidized loans start gathering interest the moment they are disbursed to the students. These debts can follow the student even after bankruptcy, and usually take upwards of 20 years to pay back. Many middle-income students, as well as some low-income students will come out of the college experience with a bundle of financial debt to repay. To provide direct relief to these loans that students are suffering should be the first step the university takes. Keeping the student fees is the exact opposite of that, for both low- and middle-class students.
However, I am not in support of a lawsuit against the UC systems. The class-action against the UC system will bleed out the universities, allowing the lawyers to profit from the fight and hindering the educational process for future generations of students. I for one want to stay in the San Diego area, work in a lab funded by UCSD, and work on the progress for science and knowledge as UCSD has pursued. However, I also hope the UC systems, and UC San Diego can realize the truth to its students’ needs, and act accordingly, starting with even a partial student fee refund, and leading to more transparency about the fees. If a lawsuit should scare the UCs to do
that, then I will go and support the lawsuit, for the Universities need to stop taking advantage of the students who are pursuing a better life and opportunities through higher education.
I also do not agree with a refund of the tuition. The quality of education has been lowered, granted, despite the Chancellor’s claim for maintaining the academic standards and rigor. However, I do see and appreciate each faculty’s effort to adjust to the new setting and make the necessary calls to make this the best experience for each student. They, too, are people after all, and I cannot expect them to be good at something they have not done in their professional careers. I applaud their efforts during this difficult time to teach the students to the best of their abilities.
We are all in difficult times, university and students alike, and no one can “measure” each individual’s amount of difficulty and proclaim someone is in “less difficulty” than another. However, the UC system taking the student fees and threatening to fire more employees as a result of returning the fees seems like putting the weight of university maintenance solely on the students’ burden. How about the administrators, deans and the chancellor taking up these burdens for a change? They will not, and rather hide behind a wall of excuses that continues to disappoint the student body. These acts continue to make college students the ultimate victims of financial crises. That is why I am disappointed in the UC system and UCSD, and that is why I support refunding the student fees. Change my mind.
Thank you, I’ll wait for your reply.
3rd year UCSD Student
Photo courtesy of Joseph Oh.