Students charged $197,060
Campuses inadequately promote fee, waiver
Students at Contra Costa, Diablo Valley and Los Medanos colleges have been forced to pay a $5 student activity fee that the Governing Board passed as optional.
The approximate total revenue collected from the district-wide fee for spring semester 2012, according to district calculations, is $197,060 - $39,960 at CCC, $46,610 at LMC in Pittsburg and $110,490 at DVC in Pleasant Hill.
The three are in the Contra Costa Community College District.
Effective last spring, the optional student activity fee was implemented to collect funds for student government groups at the three colleges. Students have the option of completing a student activity fee waiver form and turning it into their respective admissions offices, but must do it within the first two weeks of the semester.
However, inadequate promotion across the district led to most students being unaware of the fee and the two-week opt out option for spring and fall 2012.
Because of this lack of early semester promotion, nearly every student in the district who took spring 2012 classes was forced to pay the $5 fee or they would not be allowed to enroll for fall 2012 courses.
The district's adoption budget for fiscal year 2012-13, which began July 1, set the beginning balance of the student organization fund at $597,910.
All revenue from the student activity fee, in addition to other income avenues intended for student government use, goes into the student organization fund, according to district documents provided by Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services John al-Amin.
Total revenue for the year is listed at being $298,000 with total expenses standing at $114,200 - just $4,000 less than what DVC took in from the activity fee for just one semester, leaving the student organization fund ending balance at $781,710.
The district student organization fund took in more revenue than it is expected to spend for this year. The activity fee alone produced more funds in one semester (spring 2012) than the three combined ASUs are expected to spend for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
ASUs propose activity fee
"I had my reservations (about implementing the fee)," Governing Board President Tomi Van de Brooke said. "When this was proposed I felt that it was not the board, essentially, proposing it. It was coming through the student (leaders), so I supported it."
As a member of the districtwide group of student government leaders who proposed the activity fee to the Governing Board, former ASU president Rodney Wilson said he originally voted against it. However, he was outvoted, and the proposal was taken to the board.
The fee was approved by the board May 25, 2011.
Van de Brooke said in order to approve such a proposal the student trustees are not required to hold a vote among the student bodies at their respective campuses.
DVC's student government also receives funds by selling an Associated Students of DVC (ASDVC) sticker. In the minutes from the ASDVC Oct. 4, 2011 meeting, the group expected the sticker to bring in $99,000 for spring 2012 - a $22,123 reduction in sticker revenue from the previous semester.
"We've been losing money from the sticker sales," DVC Inter-Club Council President Lan Bui said, referring to reasons why the ASDVC supported the activity fee.
Student governments receive a small percentage allotment from bookstore sales revenue respective to each college.
LMC Associated Student (LMCAS) senators also have the option to receive stipends for meeting certain requirements. According to the LMCAS Bylaws Section VII, Article I, stipends for the president, vice president and vice president for finance can be up to $1,000 per year. For all other senators the amount is $800.
District Board Policy 3003 states that student organization funds are used to pay stipends.
At issue - who's responsible?
CCC ASU leaders and Interim Dean of Students Vicki Ferguson both agree that the college failed to properly promote the implementation of the fee and fee waiver.
Yet LMC and DVC Associated Student organizations attest to beginning promotion in fall 2011. However, students on each campus remain ill-informed, or not informed at all, of the fee and its accompanying waiver.
During spring 2012, all DVC and LMC students were assessed the $5 fee.
DVC student Shamil Sharma said he did not know much about the fee or the waiver.
"I just have to pay $15," he said. "I'm not sure why. They sent me a letter a couple of days ago saying that I have to pay. I think financial aid should just cover it."
Lots of other students at DVC are unaware of the $5 charge. Student Rifag Ali and mechanical engineering major Derek Dudley have studied on campus for three years and knew nothing of the fee or the waiver.
Computer science major Trevor Heinrich, also a DVC student in his third year on campus, said he found out about the activity fee when he received his delinquency email from the Admissions Office.
DVC students Chris Nguyen and Tim Tran also did not know of the fee until receiving emails. "It said if I didn't pay then I wouldn't be able to sign up for (spring 2013) classes," Nguyen said.
Students at DVC and LMC, in addition to the activity fee, are charged $1 for every unit up to 10 units to maintain each campus' student life office.
"Right now DVC is charging me $10 and LMC is charging me $15," communications major Sketch Choice, who attends both colleges, said. "I didn't know there was an option to waive the fee, otherwise, I wouldn't have been (having) it."
Current Governing Board Student Trustee Debora Van Eckhardt, also an associated student senator at LMC, said the ASLMC's did its "due diligence" in promoting the fee and waiver.
"We began to promote them both in the fall of 2011," Eckhardt said. "We have a flier posted outside of our office and it's in the course schedule on pages six and seven with a note at the bottom explaining the fee waiver. We've done this every semester since and we do not take it down.
"It's everywhere that students look for campus information," she said.
But many students at the Pittsburg college are totally unaware of the fee or the waiver.
"It's really up to the student to be wise about campus information," she said. "In reality, how do you inform every single student? They have a right to know and the information needs to be available, but part of this is on the students. There are a lot of people who don't know about the fee and the waiver, but that doesn't all fall under our responsibility.
"It's their job to look at the catalog and see what fees they have to pay," Eckhardt said.
Fee information tough to find on websites
Information about the fee, and the fee waiver form, can be found on each campus' website.
CCC students can visit www.contracosta.edu, click the "Student Services" tab and select "Student Life." Then they need to scroll down the page until arriving at the section reading, "Student Activity Fee." A link to the waiver form is found in that paragraph.
Students at LMC can visit www.losmedanos.edu and select "Current Students" from the tab menu atop the page. Under the finances category click "Fees and Refunds."
Below the Student Activity Fee category there is a link to download the fee waiver.
DVC students searching for the fee and fee waiver online have to visit www.dvc.edu, choose "Current Students," then click "Admissions and Financial Aid."
Once there, they can select the "Register, Finance, Transfer, Graduate" tab and then select the "Admissions and Registration" tab. After that, they must choose "Tuition and Fees" then "Tuition and Fee Information."
After all of that they must scroll to find information about the activity fee and there is a link directing students to the waiver form.
The Advocate polled 50 students randomly at LMC on Thursday. Of those students, 15 said they knew about the fee this semester. Of those 15, six of them knew about the waiver form.
However, the students found out about the fee and the waiver by receiving emails, way after the two-week opt out period, from the LMC Admissions and Records Office informing them of the fee and that it must be paid in order to enroll in spring 2013 classes.
"I knew about the fee and the fee waiver - (but) I found out about them when I received a letter in the mail, along with my financial aid check," LMC student Robert Griffith said. "Without question I just went and paid the $15. It sucks having to pay a fee when you don't have money. At one point this semester I had $2 in my pocket - it was that bad."
Of the 50 students polled, 36 attended LMC during spring 2012 and only five of them found out about the fee during the spring semester, again only after receiving emails.
Only two of those students said they found out about the fee waiver during the spring, also after the opt out period.
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