Among the hubbub of the start of every college semester, one thing that most all college students dread to see are their tuition fees. While the Bursar’s office reassures us that all of our money is being put to good use, from paying our hardworking professors, to serving us delightful meals from GDS, it is often hard for us degree-seekers to see the fees as much more than a future debt, a weight to carry after we graduate.
Now, NJIT does a wonderful job helping many students afford their college education. More than 80% of incoming undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid from just filling out a FAFSA form once a semester, with aid packages averaging about over $17,000 per academic school year. Multiple scholarships are also available, including National and Honors Merit, and the Dean’s Scholarship, which certainly lighten the load on a student’s back. Still, it always feels like a stab in the wallet to have to count off receipts.
This year is no exception. If anything, college expenses weigh heavier than ever on students whose families have been impacted by the global economic downturn caused by COVID-19 pandemic, with many people having to cut their spending just to stay afloat. That being said, it would be highly appreciated if no surplus fees come to plague the minds of us students this fiscal year… Queue NJIT’s long rollout of “additional fees” that although by no means are unique to this institution, do not bode good news for our financial stability regardless.
The student activities fee, nestled within a slew of others, has been regarded by many students as unnecessary or unnecessarily high in this time of virtual schooling. The student activities fee currently costs a pretty $55 dollars a semester, and has not changed despite our mostly online format.
The Bursar’s Office states that the fee “supports student activities and enhances campus life, whether on campus or virtual, for undergraduate students including but not limited to: student organizations, social… events and activities, travel to conferences and competitions, large-scale events, and other services such as the student newspaper and yearbook.”
Note the Office of the Bursar’s blurring of the line between “on campus” and “virtual” student’s access to such “student activities.” Traditionally, this fee would fund well-loved events like in-person cultural festivals, casino nights and Spring break trips, all of which must be postponed for the foreseeable future (or at least, until NJIT reaches phase 5 of our pandemic recovery plan, being sluggishly progressed considering the recent rise in cases in both the university and New Jersey). Most events have now moved to online formats, prompting a surge in online service events, speakers and giveaways.
Now, this is not to say that the student activities fee is not finding anything important this year. The fee is budgeted by NJIT’s Student Senate, who distributes about 10% of the schoolwide fee to various forms of campus improvement, such as infrastructure and maintenance, and the other 90% to running NJIT’s many vibrant clubs and activities. This year, $420,000 of the Senate budget was allocated towards clubs and events, with 12% allocated to Student Senate’s “signature events.”
Student organization leaders are trying to make the most of the mostly virtual semester. For example, the Association for Computing Machinery is working on putting together HackNJIT, their largest event of the school year. Third year computer science student Evan Markowitz and President of ACM said, “the event will definitely be different. Obviously there will be a different dynamic, but I’d like to think we’re putting on an event that will be able to be compared to past years and will be compelling enough.” Regarding the student activities fee, Markowitz said “if clubs aren’t using the money, by all means give that money back to the students. However, I don’t think we should lower it for the sake of lowering it.”
It is important to acknowledge that the Senate does an amicable job of keeping the bright and fun extracurricular side of the college experience up and running, despite its dulled glow at this point in time. The effects of COVID-19 seem to be aptly reflected in the budget this year, and student leaders should be appreciated for all the work they do in attempting to bring socially-distant and pandemically-responsible enjoyment to the student body.
Unfortunately, this sentiment is not universally accepted by many students this semester. And during a time that people feel more disconnected than ever, not to mention unenthusiastic about attending more virtual meetings on top of online classes. First year biomedical engineering student and Honors hall resident Seejal Padhi said “I think that the student activity fee is really high when you consider this is the normal price for when in-person events are happening, because right now we are only on Webex calls. So while there should be a student activity fee, it should be lowered.”
Talks of lowering the fee have not gone unentertained by members of Student Senate. Owen Busler, senior electrical engineering student and the Director of Student Organizations, argued in favor of reducing the student activity fee. “Yes, I think that the activity fee should be reduced during a time where students are getting fewer substantial services for their money. Yes, there are still a lot of organizations hosting great virtual events with lots of giveaways and such, but it just isn’t the same as great in person events.”
However, he explained that the student activity fee for the following semester has been all but determined to remain the same. “Senate E-Board spent time at the beginning of the semester discussing if we could afford to reduce the fee. The Student Senate finance committee determined it would definitely be possible and approached the budgeting office about it. They ran into some bureaucratic hurdles and informed us it would be very difficult to change the fee for next semester.”
However, Busler explained that the student activity fee is still a reasonable amount to pay given its return, especially in past semesters. “The $55 I believe is a reasonable amount for what students get in return. It is significantly less than similar universities (RIT- $153, Stevens – $230, Stony Brook – $127, Rowan – $91, TCNJ – $149) and for what is charged, lots of great organizations and events are funded for the student body.”
Despite the fact that fewer students and even residents are attending events in person, Busler explained that “whatever fee is charged to students should be independent of residential status as almost all events are virtual and open to everyone.”
In this time of global crisis, it is needless to say that we need each other as a community more than ever. We used to bond through festivals and fairs, and we are now presented with the opportunity to bond through virtual calls. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced NJIT’s higher education leaders to reconsider where to cut costs or control tuition, and it’s evident that many, from residents, to remote students, to student leaders, believe that if we can cut costs in the student activities fee to support one another, we should consider it.