With over fifteen million dollars in tuition funds up for grabs, Cal State Fullerton student leaders have a voice over where that money will go to support students.
The Student Success Initiative fee was created in 2014 in an effort to allocate additional funding to programs that students felt needed more financial support to promote student success — among these include funding to extend library hours, expand academic advising and improve course availability.
This mandatory fee costs students just over $200 each academic session, and some students are not happy about where their money is being spent.
A group of students from the Disability Support Services office, which serves 1,800 students at CSUF, say their current funding does not get the job done.
Jose Castillo, president of Abled Advocators and a member of the committee that decides where funding from the fee will go, said he hopes to see the allocation expand in the upcoming negotiations.
“I'm trying to make a petition where people can sign and pretty much we can show them that DSS, they know about this and they want to see some change. It's not just something that's going to be brushed under the rug again,” he said.
Currently, the athletics department takes up a large sum of resources, pulling in over 30% of the funding, making it the largest single department in the lineup. Just under half of that money goes to students, while the other half is designated for updating athletic facilities.
The disability office pulls in 0.8% from that same fund dedicated to student success.
While the athletics department does not post their budget online, a February 2019 press release put the total program at just over $19 million. According to the 2020 allocation, the department will receive nearly $5 million this year.
The Disability Support Services’ total budget in 2019 was $1.2 million, and the department is set to take in just over $130,000 this year.
Some students have dropped out from the support center entirely, citing its limited resources.
Adelita Gutierrez, a fourth-year student, said she stopped using the center because of the lack of support she felt. She raised concerns with the center’s computer lab in the Pollak Library having six computers designated for over 1,800 DSS students, and only four adjustable desks designed for physically impaired students in the library.
“Outside the library, there’s only one of those adjustable desks when they should have multiple desks,” Gutierrez said.
These problems are only expected to get worse with the center’s enrollment growing by 10-15% every year since 2014.
But, students now have a chance to change where that money is headed or keep it moving in the same direction.
The Student Fee Advisory Committee controls where those funds will be set in the coming years and a majority of its members are students. Seven student leaders along with five faculty members control where the funds land.
Because the Student Success Initiative fee is a required fee for every student, any adjustments to the allocation of these funds must be disclosed to the student body. This is usually done through surveys promoted to students.
“It's a very very lengthy process, but, usually, from what I've seen in the historical documents of at least our campus, what students end up recommending is what is usually what's done,” said Yessica De La Torre Roman, coordinator for Assessment and Student Fee Programs.
However, during the last survey in 2014, less than 3% of the student body responded as to what improvements they wanted to see on campus.
Through an executive order in the Cal State University system, once the implementation of these funds are set, the percentages allocated to each program cannot be changed for six years, which means CSUF’s funds are up for grabs starting in 2021, De La Torre Roman said.
Because a survey must be done to make changes to these funds, the concern for a low response rate to surveys that was seen in 2014 may repeat again — especially when students are learning from home.
Marcus Reveles, president of the Associated Students and co-chair of the Student Fee Advisory Committee that controls the funds, said he thinks the university can get the word out with ease.
“I think the university has been successful in being able to communicate certain information when needed. I feel like, for example, if we're able to have surveys or announcements through student portals, through the student center when students log in, sending out surveys to deans, colleges and departments,” Reveles said.
At the committee’s next meeting on Dec. 11, Castillo and other members of Abled Advocators are aiming to open the conversation about designating more funds for Disability Support Services.
“It seems like we’re losing our humanity, our morality. I want to see more unity on this campus,” Castillo said. “I don’t want to be a person that just went to Cal State Fullerton and say ‘Oh, I just went to Cal State Fullerton.’ I want to say, ‘I went to Cal State Fullerton, my home.’ I want to be proud of that.”