This is part 2 of a series by JAMS 320 reporting class exploring the possible effect of Gov. Scott Walker’s opt out segregated fee proposal.
Kelsey Laas, a nursing student at UW-Milwaukee, had never heard of allocable segregated fees and was unaware that she had been paying them since she began attending UW-Milwaukee a year-and-a-half ago.
“As much as I would love to opt-out and not pay the extra money, I think I would opt-in, because I use all of those resources,” Laas said. “I think UWM would really suffer if these organizations were taken away, especially considering it’s a very diverse school.”
If enough students don’t think like Laas, Milwaukee could look like a completely different campus in the future. Major student resource centers, events and services – like the LGBTQ+ Center, the Women’s Center, Pantherfest, BOSS, UPASS, homecoming, and even some veteran services – could disappear under a new budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker. You can read story 1 that gives the overview here.
Walker’s budget would allow students to opt out of paying what are called “allocable segregated fees.” The fees – which all students now pay except in rare cases – fund dozens of student groups and activities on campus, like UWM’s growing number of sports clubs, including the nationally recognized Black Cat Frisbee team, lacrosse and football. If students opt out – presuming the Republican-controlled Legislature agrees with Walker – those are just some of the things that might no longer exist on the Milwaukee campus.
What do students think? Would they opt in or out? Media Milwaukee student videographers Amanda Becker and Emily Gallagher-Schmitz randomly approached students to find out, and they found a mixed bag:
Some of the centers and groups affected did not want to comment because of the political nature of the topic or because they said they weren’t clear yet how they would be affected. Others, though, described the value of the services they offer to Media Milwaukee reporters.
Here are some voices on the topic:
UPASS and UPARK
The transportation Office at the university offers the UPASS program where students can ride the Milwaukee County bus line for free by showing the bus driver their school ID and placing their UPASS card on the card reader. The allocable segregated fees the students pay is what drives this program.
Steven Ohland is the Transportation Services Manager for the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Transportation Services Office. “Essentially the UPASS program is just run through those fees,” he told Media Milwaukee.
Currently, out of the entire amount of the fees that students pay per semester, about $42 of it goes to the UPASS program.
They may not sound like much, but Ohland breaks it down. “If the designated portion for the UPASS program, the $42 and some change, is multiplied by the eligible student population, roughly 18,000 individuals, that’s a significant contractual obligation with MCTS (the Milwaukee County bus system); so if that were to be eliminated, it would change the program drastically.”
If down the road, these segregated fees are no longer provided to the UPASS program, along with many other programs, they would cease to exist; and many students would have to find another way to school.
Dakota Crowell is the chairman of the Green Fund, a senator of the Student Association and the creator of the Environmental Sustainability Mentorship Committee.
The Green Fund is a very new organization that just went through the segregated fee process in December. The goal of the Green Fund is to give students the opportunity to implement and lead different projects that would make the campus more environmentally friendly. These projects could be anything from outdoor learning spaces to planting fruit trees.
The Green Fund is set to receive funds to begin projects in the fall of this year. However, if Walker’s proposal goes into effect and a significant amount of students decide to opt out of paying that fee, the Green Fund may be over before it has a chance to get started.
“Right now, the way that the Green Fund is set up, it’s funded strictly through segregated fees. So if students opt out and decide not to pay, that will just mean less money for us. The reason we’ve set it up this way is because we’ve had difficulty finding different funding sources,” said Crowell.
The total amount of segregated fees is around $700. That includes allocable and non-allocable fees. Crowell says that the allocable fees are less than half of that $700, about $200. Walker’s proposal does not affect the other portion of funds. The $200 of allocable fees is controlled and allocated by elected student representatives. They decide how it is spent, as opposed to the non-allocable fees, which students have no control over.
Crowell plans to write letters to different legislators and says that the Student Association has lobbied at the state level to inform state senators of what’s going on. He hopes to stop the proposal from going through, but wants to inform students about the consequences in case it does.
“We would hope that they wouldn’t choose to opt out, because there are a lot of resource centers and different things on campus that help a lot of our students be able to stay in school and achieve their goals and really helps with retention here at UWM. I feel like there are better ways to be able to make college more affordable without hindering some of these resources and these opportunities that the segregated fee does provide for students.”
There are currently 26 competitive sport clubs on campus at UWM comprised of 600+ students. The segregated fee funding is allocated among them by a student committee. The committee mostly uses their money to fund competitions against other schools. The cost usually includes league or governing body dues, entry fees into tournaments, payment to sports officials and referees, or travel and lodging costs while away from campus.
“Allocated funding is commonly spent on the reservation costs associated with practice space and facilities, equipment essential to club operation, promotion of the sport club program,” said Skyler Harmon, Coordinator of Intramural Sports and Sports Clubs.
The vast majority of the sport clubs program budget comes from an allocable segregated fee. The services provided to the clubs through non-allocable funding are more risky. This includes funding for athletic trainers at home competitions, athletic trainer funding and staffing of UREC student employees during all university hosted practices and competitions for supervision and to ensure adherence to university and program policies.
The loss of funding would affect clubs differently. Because these clubs are student organizations, they must go through renewal each year. It would be up to them whether they want to renew because of budget cuts.
“As a professional staff, we are here to assist the clubs with decision making and budgeting, but at the end of the day, the decisions on how the club plans to operate for the given year rests on their student leadership,” Harmon said.
LGBT Resource Center
The LGBT Resource Center’s budget goes to staffing with two full-time staff members and seven part-time student staff members. Student staffers range from six undergrads and one grad student. Staff organizes educational workshops each semester.
“We also give many presentations to staff [and] faculty who want to better learn how to create an inclusive, welcoming classroom for all students,” said Sarah DeGeorge, an Executive Assistant at the LGBT Resource Center.
The Resource Center works on educational efforts to help make the campus more diverse, which DeGeorge said is a huge asset for a University.
“First off, it is a great recruiting tool,” DeGeorge said, “The fact that we are rated a Top 30 LGBTQ friendly campus by Campus Pride is a big boost.”
These efforts are all to help students who came from backgrounds without LGBT resources.
“My favorite experience is welcoming in the new freshmen class every fall,” DeGeorge said, “After coming from a small town high school where they couldn’t even organize a GSA, some break down into tears seeing that they get a whole office that is theirs.”
The LGBT Resource Center does not just serve those who identify with the community but all students.
“We aim to serve the entire UWM community,” DeGeorge said.
Allocable fees fund the center. DeGeorge believes the center boosts enrollment and academic success.
“Seg fee funded centers improve student life and make the campus a more attractive place to spend four years.” DeGeorge said.
Student Involvement is the head operations for student organizations and student participation on campus. Eric Jessup-Anger is the Associate Director of Student Involvement and the Student Union. Jessup-Anger says Student Involvement mission is to create powerful learning opportunities that are available outside of academics. “We want every single student on campus involved in something,” say Jessup-Anger.
Student Involvement aims to help students find their place on campus and to allow students to express their interests. Student Involvement works with organizations to help plan and execute all their activities.
“Everything we do is funded through segregated fees,” says Jessup-Anger. “Student Involvement can’t exist without segregated fees.”
If Student Involvement were to go away due to lack of funding, students would have a very hard time getting involved outside the classroom and developing meaningful skills and experiences.
Jessup-Anger did not comment on his own feelings towards the proposal but stressed the importance of Student Involvement and its goals to help all UWM students.
Military & Veterans Center
One group that will likely be affected if allocable segregated fees are no longer collected is the Military and Veterans Resource Center. MAVRC provides a safe place for veterans to study, meet other veterans and get focused help which includes: career and development services, health & fitness services as well as helping veterans better transition from their time in the military, to their time spent in the classroom.
UWM enrolls 1,088 veterans, which is more than any school in the State of Wisconsin as well as any university in a six-state region. Since opening in 2012, MAVRC boasts a veteran student retention rate of 90 percent, which is up from 70 percent in the past. The center had over 7,000 documented visitors in 2015-2016, with foot traffic for this center increasing by 69 percent over the past three years.
Veteran and former U.S. Marine Joseph Sheehy has used MAVRC and said, “There’s a reason why so many veterans attend UWM; they do a great job with helping veterans transition as well as handling paperwork for veterans. The student body could learn quite a bit from the veterans on campus. We all have the same fears and worries. Veterans commit suicide at a rate of 22 a day. While most might not care, it’s in our best interest to help one another.”
MAVRC requested a segregated fee decrease from $2.00 to $1.50. They also receive a $1.25 per paying student approved and external grants such as the VA work study and state funding. MAVRC is unique among the centers in that it is not only funded by allocable fees; thus, if they went away, the center might be able to survive, but its staff and resources would likely decrease.
Ben Trager, the director of Community-Based Learning at the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research, said the Center has multiple programs that act as a liaison between the university and the community. The center hosts trips to service centers twice a week, and also has students matched with work study programs across the city of Milwaukee.
“The more involved you are, the more you know what’s available at your fingertips,” says Trager.
The Center for Community-Based Learning Leadership and Research center’s mission is to “offer students the opportunity to build their civic identity, professional skills, and network through volunteerism, service learning and internships.”
This is a resource that would assist students in receiving internships, in line with Gov. Walker’s performance-based learning. However, the CBLLR receives $4 from every student’s allocable segregated fees to fund the program.
PantherFest is run by the Student Involvement staff and offers opportunities to students to help set up PantherFest. (Many of the centers affected by the opt out proposal employ students). This will be Student Involvement’s fifth year of running PantherFest with students and assigning students to a specific task.
PantherFest is completely funded through segregated fees. Without segregated fees, PantherFest tickets and transportation to the event would be very high. Staff Co-Chair and Associate Director of Student Involvement Rebecca Grassl, says “it would be very difficult or close to impossible to continue PantherFest without segregated fees.”
Grassl did not comment on her thoughts of the proposal but said students have had a very meaningful experience working on PantherFest. “PantherFest is a great way to start the fall semester,” Grassl says. “My favorite part is hearing the student workers reflect on their experience.”
Women’s Resource Center
The Women’s Center did not respond to requests to comment.
However, others stressed its importance. Charmaine Lang is an associate lecturer for the Women’s and Gender Studies department and doctoral candidate in the Africology department. She is also the project coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center and frequently works with the LGBT Resource Center.
“I think this proposal is harmful to the education of all students across UW campuses. This proposal would mean a loss of employment for student staff, many of whom work to help offset the cost of higher education, and a loss of services for students who depend on the work we do, and the resources we offer to help maintain a healthy life, work, school balance. Instead of allowing students to opt out, the proposal should do more to expand necessary student services, and higher paying campus employment,” said Lang.
Losing student resources centers like the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership & Research (CBLLR), the Inclusive Excellence Center (IEC), the Women’s Resource Center, LGBT Resource Center and Military and Veterans Resource Center (MAVRC) would damage campus life at UWM, she and others believe.
Elana Levine is a Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies professor at the UW-Milwaukee, and this semester she is teaching a seminar surrounding gender and popular culture.
“Being a student on any college campus is about being part of a community, and that community enters into a shared agreement to support one another,” said Levine. “Women-identified students have some distinct issues and challenges that the Resource Center helps to address,” said Levine, “including the alarming rates of sexual assault on college campuses nationwide.”
Campus Legal Clinic
Sheehy has also spent time volunteering at the free University Legal Clinic on campus, another organization funded by allocable segregated fees and one that he said is beneficial to students.
“Most of my time was spent in the University Legal Clinic volunteering, an opportunity and resource not available on most campuses. People do not realize what they have until it’s gone or taken away,” said Sheehy.
Minority and other student clubs like African American Affiliates, the Latino Festival, the Muslim Student Association, and the Palestinian Culture and Solidarity Event are a few more activities and groups that have been funded by allocable segregated fees. Many student organizations rely on the funding.
The UWM Sailing Club was founded in 1962 and is the oldest club in the university. Aaron Cochran, an art major in his senior year, is the club’s commodore. This means he handles all business associated with the club. The club does charge a fee for sailing lessons, but the main source of money comes from allocable segregated fees, so caring for the boats would be a challenge if those funds were taken away.
“It would be difficult because we use those funds for dry-docking the boats and for taking care of various wear items throughout the year. Lines, sails, things of that sort.” Said Aaron.
The sailing club allows students to learn skills that can be used well after students graduate.
“There’s more reasons to be in a club than just sailing and having a good time. You’re contributing to something. That’s what we try to stress is that you can actually put this on your resume. Ultimately there’s a cost for taking that away from a student because you have to show some abilities other than academic to be able to make it out in the world.”
There are also classes that are taught in the summer that go along with the sailing club. If the sailing club has to end because of a lack of funding, so do those summer classes. While Cochran understands the struggle of paying the high cost of tuition, he’s not so sure that this a one size fits all solution to that problem.
“It may be a good idea for other schools. You’ve got schools like Madison that have so many different funding sources” and a higher graduation rate. said Cochran. ” I don’t know if a broad brush like that is an appropriate way to approach this.”
Margaret Farrow is a member of the UW System board of Regents. Farrow said she has not thoroughly read through Governor Walker’s proposal and the board has not yet met to discuss it.
“When I saw that [allocable fees would be optional], my question was does the governor or his staff or whoever did this understand, as we have to know, what the real impact is?”
From her understanding, most of the allocable fees are distributed by student voting, but she is aware that these fees fund a lot of women’s programs and the student bus passes.
Edmund Manydeeds, a board member since 2010, said significant items like this one need to be studied in detail before they are criticized. If they are unintentionally taking away from low-income students or students who couldn’t afford to join these activities otherwise then that would be a cause for concern, but right now everyone should wait until Walker releases his follow-up proposal before taking a “concrete position.” Overall, he thought other parts of the governor’s proposal showed significant improvements from the past, like a 2 percent pay increase for faculty and staff.