Students Balk at Activity Fees

Article excerpt

Although Samantha Horn keeps an eye on the weather, she's not a member of the meteorology club.

She does not know how to waltz, so she has never considered joining the Ballroom and Latin Dance Club.

And the Young and Gifted Gospel Choir and Pro Golf Management Club are not even on her radar.

So Horn's not pleased that her annual $540 student activity fee at California University of Pennsylvania goes to support groups she did not even know existed.

"There are way too many fees," said Horn, 19, of Arnold City. "I'm not too fond of paying for a club I've never heard of or belong to."

Student activity fees have been a point of contention on college campuses for years. Lawsuits proceeding as far as the Supreme Court have challenged whether the fees can fund political or religious groups.

Records from Pennsylvania's 14 state universities show the fees - - ranging from $235 at Kutztown University to $900 at Mansfield University -- are spent on everything from the Paintball Club and the Paranormal Society to political speakers and fitness and leisure centers.

Such fees are drawing more scrutiny from cash-strapped students struggling to pay for school as grants and loans dry up.

Last year, New Jersey's Rutgers University was in the national spotlight when its student board was criticized for paying MTV's "Jersey Shore" star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi $32,000 from its student activity fees for two hourlong question-and-answer sessions.

Polizzi earned $2,000 more than Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, who gave the commencement address last year.

One New Jersey lawmaker, Republican Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, introduced legislation requiring students to "opt in" to pay student activity fees. The bill died at the end of the legislative session last year.

"Students should not be further burdened with being forced to pay for events in which they will never participate or find improper," Kyrillos said.

Randi Miller, 20, a California University junior from Mifflintown in Juniata County, said the money could be better spent on books or another class. Miller is a member of the school's Speech and Hearing Club, which was awarded $5,000 this year.

"College is so expensive, and $500 a year -- I feel like it's a lot of money I could be using for things that could benefit my education directly," she said.

At California University, the nonprofit Student Association Inc. gets the largest share of student activities fee funding -- $1.05 million for the current school year -- for salary, benefits and professional fees for employees who work with students and oversee student activity functions. Examples of SAI employees include the Greek Life adviser, student media advisers and fitness center staff.

The school's athletic programs receive the second-largest amount of funding, $655,000.

At many colleges, activity fees are set by the school's president with consultation from student government boards.

"If he or she (a president) sees something that is inappropriate, they cannot fund something," said Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which represents the state schools. "But it really is the student organization that makes the determination on how to spend the funds."

Each school sets up its own system for distributing the funds.

At Kutztown University, student government President Paul Keldsen said groups must exist for a year before applying for funding. …