Bills to decouple Services and Activities fee from tuition moving in House and Senate
The Services and Activities fee, a fee paid by students alongside tuition, has been a major topic of discussion for the last two weeks. The reason for the hype over S&A comes from the introduction of HB 1433 and SB 5592. These companion bills will decouple S&A fees from tuition.
To explain the importance of this action, it is worthy to note what S&A is. Each quarter, students pay a fee per credit based on the current rate of tuition. These fees pay for programs – such as a school newspaper or music program, or activities and events – such as campus intramural sports or college movie nights. These fees also pay for student salaries and operations for these programs or events.
There is also an annual S&A contingency budget in which money is set aside for emergent needs that may arise throughout the school year. These funds can be used for expenses like repairing an athletics van that has broken down or replacing a campus monitor that displays information to students.
The allocation of the S&A fee money is typically decided upon by an S&A fee budget committee. This committee is comprised of mostly students as voting members and non-voting staff advisors. The budget is then approved by each college’s board of trustees.
In the current configuration, S&A fees are coupled with tuition. This means that S&A fees can be raised annually only by the same percentage that tuition is being raised.
If HB 1433 and SB 5592 were to become law, S&A fees would be decoupled from tuition. This means that the colleges are free to raise or lower S&A fees without being constricted by tuition.
This can benefit many colleges, especially in scenarios similar to what we are facing in this biennium. We are currently in a tuition freeze, however minimum wage is on the rise. What this means for S&A is that the programs that draw from S&A funds are requesting more money to account for inflation, however there are no new funds coming in because of the tuition freeze.
While passing this bill appears to be a no-brainer, there are some concerns that the community and technical college face in its passing.
For the community and technical colleges, the cap for the fees are set by the nine-member governor-appointed State Board, and the fees at the individual colleges are set by their respective boards of trustees. The concern is that the S&A fees may be lowered, which will force programs to close, deter colleges from putting on events that help with student engagement and retention, or decrease the number of students that can be employed on campus. Where we would most likely see this occur is in a recession where tuition is raised to keep colleges operational and S&A fees would likely be lowered to keep the colleges competitive.
Due to these concerns, the Board of Directors of the Washington Community and Technical Colleges Student Association (WACTCSA) relayed that they did not currently support the bill if it includes the community and technical colleges. However, they hope to see a similar bill pass on behalf of the community and technical colleges in future sessions if there is protective language that would deter colleges from lowering S&A fees in times where they are still needed so drastically.
As a result of this stance, the Washington Student Association (WSA) has worked with members of the House Higher Education Committee to amend the bill to state that community and technical colleges are exempt from the decoupling at this time. HB 1433, which was originally heard Feb. 7 in the House Higher Education Committee, was amended and voted out of the committee on Feb. 15. It is now with the House Appropriations Committee for its consideration. SB 5592 was heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee Feb. 9 and passed out Feb. 10. The Senate Ways & Means Committee held a public hearing on it Feb. 15, but it has not yet been scheduled for executive session.