ASI seeks student opinion on fee relief options

BY: GEORGIA VALDES and JIZELLE SAUCEDO

On Sept. 18, ASI President Lucy Yu and ASI Vice President Manshaan Singh led the first of two community planning sessions in which they introduced and discussed with students three possible ASI facilities and operations fee relief options for the fall semester.

“We truly don’t believe that it is right for us to make the vote without hearing from the students first,” Yu said.

As the fall term continues virtually and the spring is slated to follow suit, the Cal Poly Pomona community has questioned how fees paid are being used.

History student Carlos Callejo shared his concerns during the discussion. Our motto here at Cal Poly is ‘learn by doing,’ but I feel that staring at a screen all day doesn’t do it for me,” Callejo said. “Why should we pay for full tuition and extra fees when we aren’t benefitting from a full educational experience?”

Following a completed financial review of this semester, Yu and Singh revealed that approximately $2 million were found in savings due to “staff cuts, the CSU hiring freeze and the travel ban where there’s no nonessential travel allowed within CSU campuses” during the campus closure.

CPP students pay six mandatory fees every year, only two of which are under ASI jurisdiction. The ASI fee cost students $63.30 for the semester, and the ASI facilities and operations fee costs $403.97.

These are collected to contribute to a budget that consists of “programs, services, space and human resources.” According to Yu, these categories count toward the programming at CPP, the office services used by the students, maintenance needed for buildings on campus and providing financial and health resources to students.

Students by law must pay these fees, but the ASI facilities fee proves to be the most flexible and therefore were the focus of fee relief efforts during the event.

Both Singh and Yu elaborated on the three options that students can choose from and each estimated timeline.

These include:

● Option One: funnel the savings into the university basic needs programs.

(Courtesy of ASI)

● Option Two: focus it into capital projects and ASI financial stability.

(Courtesy of ASI)

● Option Three: reduce the fall ASI facilities and operations fees for all students in the form of a retroactive refund.

(Courtesy of ASI)

For the first option, Singh highlighted the contribution to an emergency grant of up to $500 per approved applicant. This would be open to all students experiencing financial hardship during the
coronavirus pandemic. Unlike the CARES Act funding, these initiatives will be accessible to undocumented students.

Yu added that the fees may also contribute to the ASI Poly Pantry, an ASI basic needs grant that remains in development, as well ASI food vouchers for students to receive further access to food. In further discussion, Singh added that ASI could advocate for more funds be provided to students with especially extenuating circumstances.

The second option would retain the savings for future ASI endeavors. This would include building maintenance, improvements and funding employee pension liabilities for the BSC and the BRIC. Yu explained that the fees will contribute to various capital projects such as the BRIC swimming pool restoration, BSC exterior ramp reconstruction and water damage repairs due to a broken water pipe in the BSC this past July.

Helen Nguyen, a fourth year English student prefers this option with hopes for the students to continue in-person for the 2021 summer and fall terms.

“While it does suck for me, I’d rather have it for upcoming students to have that experience to be on campus because current first years have already lost out on this chance,” Nguyen added, “Socializing with other students is already hard in this environment.”

The last option, and the most hotly debated, is a refund of the ASI facilities and operations fees. This is not a proposed full refund and, should the option be pushed by the student body, the exact amount remains to be calculated. It was also noted that the university has said that there will be administrative costs associated with this option.

While the first and second options are within ASI’s jurisdiction, in order for the third option to pass, it must first go through ASI, then to President Soraya Coley and finally to CSU Chancellor Timothy White.

At this time, White remains opposed to refunds or reductions in fees or tuition, so his signature may prove difficult to obtain. This is also the most long winded option, and students could be waiting a year or more for their refunds.

Additionally, Singh and Yu noted that this option could also change the financial status of some students. Should this occur, students who receive Cal Grant A or other state subsidized loans could be bumped from their needs based bracket because the total cost of attendance would decrease. In result, those students could end up owing money to the university.

According to the CPP financial aid catalog, “Cal Grants A and B are state grants awarded to California residents on the basis of financial need and grade point average. Initial awards are determined by the California Student Aid Commission. Renewal awards are determined by the university based on state criterias. Cal Grant A awards are for fees, while Cal Grant B awards cover fees and provides a monthly living allowance.”

Singh stressed that knowledge of the pros and cons of each option is paramount. For instance, should a student vote for option three but also be a recipient of these financial aid options, it could adversely affect them.

For first-year aerospace engineering student Kadin Lago, the event brought more clarity than expected. Having never paid the student fees before, he needed a clearer understanding as to what his money was used toward and where it could go next.

“If I had to say I was leaning toward an option, I would say a combination of one and two. Originally I was for three, but after hearing how the chancellor is adamant that he is not going to reduce fees… I don’t know if that is a feasible option, because we are going to waste a bunch of time trying to get the chancellor’s vote,” Lago said.

This hybrid option was posed following further student input. Singh outlined that a majority of the funding would be aimed toward the basic needs of students with a smaller portion used for building maintenance.

Following Singh and Yu’s explanation of the options to choose from, the discussion was paired with a poll of the three options. The survey of about 50 attendees found that 39% preferred the hybrid option, 36% preferred the refund options, 24% preferred the first option and no attendees selected the second option.

The ASI Board of Directors will weigh student opinions but have the final say on the decision.

Yu and Singh agreed that more questions can be answered as CPP is the only university to their knowledge of initiating mandatory student fee reliefs. Yu emphasized that the student body voices will be respected to make final decisions, “We really want what the students want,” added Yu.

These options will be discussed again at the next community planning meeting on Sept. 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Registration can be found here. ASI is still seeking ways to disperse the information and voter poll to the student body before a decision is made.

Following these discussions, the board of directors can vote to push one initiative as early as its Oct. 8 meeting.

More information regarding CalGrant programs can be found here.

(Feature image by Nicolas Hernandez | The Poly Post)

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