Hanna Crowley | Mustang News

Student representatives on Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors are voicing concern over both the cost and the process behind what administration is calling a “health fee adjustment.”

The plan would roughly double the health fee to reduce wait times, increase the number of counselors and medical providers, and add new technology to the Health and Wellbeing Center.

But student leaders are saying that the process administration has chosen seems too fast-paced.

“It just seems like there’s no transparency on their end, so increasing student fees is just the automatic quick fix instead of them putting in the effort to find donors or other resources,” Board representative for College of Science and Mathematics Gianna Ciaccio said.

Administration defends the process

According to Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey, administration recently chose to expand counseling and medical resources with an alternative consultation process.

Alternative consultation is a method in which administration collects student feedback on their two proposed fee increase options within 30 days. Both options would nearly double the health fee per quarter. Yearly fees would change from $315 per year to $612 or $657 for incoming students. Current students will not be affected by the increase. Administration plans to distribute 30 percent of health fee funds to Financial Aid, which will allocate the money to students who cannot afford the fee increase.

“With respect to fees, all feedback is advisory, so the university president makes the final decision whether we use an alternative consultation process or a referendum process. Both outcomes are advisory to the university president,” Humphrey said.

The Board’s suggestions

In Spring 2017, the Board proposed and passed a resolution to increase campus mental health resources “without becoming a large financial burden on students.” In the resolution, they recommended that Cal Poly use alternative funding methods to increase health resources, like donations and endowments.

Instead, administration chose to expand resources and suggest a fee increase with alternative consultation. Humphrey said endowments were not a feasible option because the amount of money needed for health center improvements — nearly $150 million — would take too long to raise. Endowments can only spend money earned off their investments. A $100 million endowment earning 3 percent a year, for example, would produce $3 million to spend.

“The level of endowment that would be needed is equivalent to or greater than the gift that was given by Bill Frost to the College of Science and Math this past year,” Humphrey said.

Regardless, Board members said many students don’t understand the increase or why student input is needed within the short 30-day time frame.

“I’ve shared this information with them, and I always preface every explanation with, ‘Raise your hand if you’ve heard about this,’ and the majority of them felt like this has been rushed and they have not had adequate enough time to give feedback,” Board representative for College of Liberal Arts Rita Elfarissi said in Wednesday’s Board meeting.

On a website providing more information, the “proposed health fee adjustment” is broken down into Option A (an additional $99 per quarter) and Option B (an additional $114 per quarter). These fees would be added on top of what students already pay for health fees, $105 per quarter. However, students are also allowed to give general feedback about the proposal, essentially creating an Option C.

Ciaccio, a co-author of the resolution, said she felt administration has not educated Board members or students enough on what alternative consultation entails.

“I think inherently they will try to frame the conversation as, ‘If there was a fee, which of these two fees would you prefer and where would you want that money for either of those two fees to go?’” Ciaccio said.

Board of Directors’ reservations

Some Board representatives expressed concern over the administration’s choice of alternative consultation during two recent Board workshops.

Ciaccio said the proposal’s process may leave students misunderstanding the full scope of the fee adjustment.

“The way [administration] framed this process, they word it as a ‘health fee adjustment’ and there’s just a lot of jargon over it that makes it seem more friendly than it actually is,” Ciaccio said. “It’s a health fee increase, it’s not a health fee adjustment.”

In the most recent workshop, Humphrey told the Board that the idea of expanding services with a health fee increase is not new. He said administration has been exploring the option for several years after hearing student and parent concerns and conducting focus groups, among other research.

Humphrey also told the Board that administration already has prospective physicians, nurses and counselors ready to fill positions should the increase occur. However, President Jeffrey Armstrong won’t make a final decision on the fee increase until after Nov. 19.

In Monday’s workshop, Board representative for College of Engineering Maggie Cheung said she is apprehensive over administration’s intentions.

“That kind of raises a concern for me because that makes me think that they kind of already have a predisposed decision and they’re going through this alternative consult process basically because they have to,” Cheung said.

Referendum vs. alternative consultation: What’s the difference?

With a referendum, the California State University preferred option, administration typically gives student body voters more time to learn about a proposed fee adjustment and vote on a decision. For example, the failed University Union referendum took nearly three years to complete.

In contrast, an alternative consultation process only takes 30 days. However, Humphrey said this method is not new.

“This is not the first time it’s been adjusted that way,” Humphrey said. “It’s also been the way that health fees have been adjusted in the CSU system over the last decade.”

Alternative consultation feedback is being collected until Nov. 19. All feedback is compiled into a report which is given to Armstrong. Armstrong then makes the final decision on whether or not to approve a fee increase after being advised by the Campus Fee Advisory Committee (CFAC).

CFAC is a committee comprised of students, faculty, staff and administration. According to ASI President Riley Nilsen, CFAC unanimously voted in favor of alternative consultation.

“I have been working diligently to slow down the process to make sure CFAC as well as students are able to digest the complex information and be able to ask critical questions,” Nilsen wrote in an email to Mustang News.

Armstrong takes student feedback into account when making decisions through both referendum and alternative consultation methods. However, he is not required to align his final decision with the wants of the student body.

Students can give feedback on the proposed fee increase at two upcoming forums on Nov. 1 and Nov. 9. Input can also be submitted via an online portal survey or given in person at student presentations.

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