In the 2018-2019 academic year, Kansas State students taking six or more credit hours pay $444 a semester on top of their tuition in privilege fees. Those dollars amass a fund of more than $16 million that is then allocated to 15 entities.
“The privilege fee is confusing, and it’s even confusing for [committee members] their first year,” said Sarah Niederee, former committee chair and senior in agricultural economics.
“I think one of the biggest things is it is a student-decided, student-paid for and student-utilized fee,” Jansen Penny, committee chair and senior in industrial engineering, said. “I think that sort of representation from students is really important because K-State is unlike a lot of other places with that.”
The privilege fee, Niederee said, levels the playing field for students because everyone is “paying into the pot.”
“Students need to know is that $444 that they are paying this semester is going towards all these different things that they have a privilege to use,” Penny said. “They are paying for that and they should take advantage of all those opportunities.”
The existence of the fee and the committee, Niederee said, speaks volumes to the level of shared governance between student government and administration at K-State. The allocations the committee decides are recommendations to administration and are ultimately passed by the Kansas Board of Regents over the summer months.
“I think K-State is really lucky because we have this model of shared governance and in all these years, the president has not said no to a privilege fee decision which is really awesome,” Niederee said. “I think it’s really important for the students to make those decisions because it’s student money and it’s all entities that all students have access to.”
The allocations for every entity are decided by Student Governing Association’s Privilege Fee Committee on three-year entity review cycles. The decisions made in the committee, which changes with every new governing term, take effect in the fiscal year that follows. In that sense, Penny said the fee is a “floating fee.”
In the previous academic year, for example, the increase, decrease and continuation decisions made by the committee resulted in students paying an additional $13 into the pot this semester. Part of that, Niederee said, was impacted by how closely knit enrollment and the privilege fee are.
“Last year we were told at the very beginning of the year ‘enrollment has dropped significantly and the privilege fee is going to increase no matter what,'” Niederee said. “We were really challenged with trying to save money other places.”
In the 2017-2018 term, the committee voted to increase allocations to Counseling Services and Lafene Health Center and ultimately terminated the privilege fee contract with K-State Athletics.
The decisions made in the committee are typically made over a three-weeklong period where the committee will hear the entity’s request for an increase, continuance or a decrease in their current allocated amount.
The first week centers primarily around a presentation from the entity director and possibly student affiliated with the organization. When Student Design Services came to the Privilege Fee Committee to request a continuance earlier in the fall semester, Audrey Taggart-Kagdis, assistant director for marketing for the K-State Student Union and the adviser of the service, presented a brief history of the entity and what it spends its allocations on. Additionally, a student employee from Student Design Services showcased some of the big design projects he completed.
In the week that followed, Taggart-Kagdis returned to the committee to answer any questions its members might have remaining after the presentation. In each review cycle, Penny said the meeting that revolves around questions allows the committee to “dive in deeper” to how the entity impacts students.
From there, the committee usually meets one final time for discussion and then they vote on a recommendation for that entity. For Student Design Services, the committee recommended a decrease of 5 percent because of the approximately $9,000 they had in surplus from the previous fiscal year.
Those recommendations are then introduced to student senate to be read, and in the weeks that follow, they are returned to committee to be voted on again and passed back to the legislative body for final action.
Where are those dollars going?
The privilege fee and its associated entities, Penny said, add value to a student’s time at K-State.
“The K-State experience is so much more than just academics and classes and showing up for your 12 to 18 hours a week of class,” Penny said. “It’s so important that we have other resources and these other experiences that really empower students to succeed.”
Major portions of the multimillion dollar fund go toward what Penny referred to as the big three. Those three — the union, Lafene Health Center and Recreational Services — collectively receive more than 80 percent of the total money in the privilege fee account.
Other entities, like Counseling Services and the Center for Student Involvement, receive considerably smaller allocations: $765,391 and $551,176 respectively. SGA is also funded by the privilege fee in the amount of $73,741 annually.