A General Activity Fee fund increase, if approved by the South Dakota Board of Regents, could increase overall student fees at the University of South Dakota by nearly $14 per credit hour over a three-year span starting next semester.
Senate Resolution 4, passed by the Student Government Association Dec. 9, 2014 with a majority vote, proposes a GAF fund increase starting at $4.50 per credit hour and increasing the amount for three years until it caps at $13.50 per credit hour.
About $7.50 of the total $13.50 is planned to go toward USD’s athletic department, but that could change when the Student Government Association’s GAF Committee evaluates budget requests in the fall.
SGA President Tyler Tordsen said GAF funds, unlike tuition and other fees, do not automatically go up from year to year. There has to be a desire expressed by students for an increase to take place.
“Basically, we kind of reached our threshold — the requests keep getting larger from all these different departments, all these different student groups, everything,” Tordsen said. “And we just don’t have any more money, and it’s not looking good in the long run. So this is more of an investment.”
The GAF committee within SGA consists of seven people, including four students: Tordsen, SGA Vice President Dustin Santjer, former SGA Senator Rachelle Norberg and graduate student Ashley White. The committee recommended SGA approve Senate Resolution 4.
Two faculty members and one staff member are involved on the committee, as well: Molly Rozum, a history professor; Bryan Bracey, kinesiology and sport science professor; and Vice President of Student Services and Dean of Students Kim Grieve. Sheila Gestring, vice president of finance, is the one non-voting chairperson.
USD’s last GAF fund increase in 2009 was to about $9 per credit hour to raise funds for the Wellness Center.
The committee spent two months deliberating this year’s increase, Tordsen said.
“As a committee we kind of decided what it would take to really make a difference. We would hate to do an increase and have it not really make a difference,” Tordsen said. “So that’s kind of where we settled in at $13.50.”
For an increase request to go to the SDBOR, it must also be approved by USD President James Abbott, who waits to make a decision until SGA provides a recommendation. The SDBOR can only approve an increase for one year at a time.
“I think the SGA debated this a great deal,” Abbott said. “For the most part, our students have been pretty willing to make investments where they were needed. I think this in an area where investment is needed and I hope the students agree.”
Tordsen said that since the increase has been backed by SGA and Abbott, he believes SDBOR will likely approve it.
Janelle Toman, SDBOR director of communications, said “it really depends on the individual request.”
Toman said the SDBOR doesn’t conduct its meeting until after the legislative session, to see if changes like a tuition freeze will affect its budget.
“That really helps guide the Board,” Toman said.
A main factor in the Board’s decision is what other increases students will have to deal with, Toman said. The next SDBOR meeting is from March 31 to April 2 on USD’s campus.
Senate Resolution 4 received four no votes from the SGA senate. Sophomore Senator John Slunecka was one of those votes.
“While I agree with the increase in principle, the way that the senate went about it was incongruent with my beliefs on how a senate should behave,” Slunecka said. “I was very disappointed with the rashness with which the senate voted.”
Slunecka said the other three senators who voted no did so for similar reasons.
At the Dec. 9 SGA meeting, the Resolution was read for a second time and then voted on by the senate. Slunecka said the senate received most of the information about the Resolution that night, which he believes was not enough time for sufficient student feedback.
“We should have put up a poll or something like that to gauge what the student body actually wanted,” Slunecka said. “The GAF increase affects literally every single student that goes here. So we should have, in my opinion, done our due diligence before we decided to jump and vote.”
Additionally, Slunecka said more debate could have occurred regarding where the funding would go.
First-year Hunter Parlet, an addiction studies major, said she had heard about the increase, but didn’t know it had been approved.
At first, Parlet said she didn’t like that athletics would be getting a majority of the additional funds. Once she knew how USD’s athletic department budget compared to other universities in the area, she saw the need.
“I see why we’re doing it then, but without knowing that it’s kind of like ‘really it’s going to sports of all things,’” Parlet said.
Tordsen said the use of funding is fairly flexible.
“The GAF committee recommended the $4.50 per credit increase, but did not want to outline directly how that increase would be spent. We wanted to leave it open for deliberation and justification for each budget cycle,” Tordsen said. “My guess is that athletics would receive a decent chunk of each increase since their needs are on a larger scale than all other funding sources.”
Although Slunecka said he sees the need, not all students at USD would agree those are most important, which is something SGA senators should have discussed more thoroughly.
“At the same time, I’ve heard other arguments that this is an educational institution, why are we funding athletics to such a high degree?” Slunecka said. “I’ve heard people mention, ‘I would rather see that funding go directly to students and have more funding go towards research or hiring better professors or doing other more academic sort of routes, because that is, after all, why we’re here.’ I can’t completely disagree with that argument.”