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Student, parent voice concerns during Tuition and Fee forum

Ernesto Farias, a political science junior and Student Government Association senator-at-large for the Brownsville campus, asks how the Athletics department manages its money during the Tuition and Fee forum earlier today in PlainsCapital Bank El Gran Salón. A second forum is scheduled from 12:15-1:30 p.m. Thursday in the Student Union Theater on the Edinburg campus. ALBERT MONRROY/THE RIDER PHOTOS

During this afternoon’s Tuition and Fee forum, a UTRGV student and parent voiced their concerns on a separate athletics fee and asked how the department plans on increasing its presence on the Brownsville campus.

More than 40 campus community members attended the forum on the Brownsville campus where university officials presented a tuition and fee rates proposal for students entering in Fall 2018 and Fall 2019.

“As a student on the Brownsville campus, and all my fellow students here … we pay for these fees, just like any other student at UTRGV but, at least for me, what gets me is that I don’t see the [Athletics] department or anything trying to be here on this campus,” said Ernesto Farias, a UTRGV political science junior and Student Government Association senator-at-large for the Brownsville campus. “What I want to know is how those [$13.65] are being used currently for our students and providing all those services. … At least for me, personally, I go out to my campus here and I don’t see even a poster saying there is a game in Edinburg.”

Farias asked how the money collected from the Student Services fee is being managed and used.

Rick Anderson, the UTRGV executive vice president for Finance and Administration, presents a tuition and fee rates proposal for students entering in Fall 2018 and Fall 2019.

“Can you prove that if we do this, it’s going to help us current students?” he asked. “If we want for athletics to be a thing here in the Valley, if we want room for growth, room for facilities and a demand for it, you need to work. … Edinburg, because I know all the sports are housed there, there is more pride [with] the university, more traditions and you live the college life. On this campus, we don’t see anything like that.” 

Rick Anderson, the UTRGV Finance and Administration executive vice president, responded to Farias by saying before the athletics and transportation fees can be split from the Student Services fee, there must be a student referendum.

“The students will have an opportunity to weigh in when that happens,” Anderson said. “If this fee proposal, as it stands right now, goes forward, if the regents approved it in February, there will likely be a referendum either this spring or, at the latest, next fall.”

Earlier in the forum, a parent, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed similar concerns as Farias.

“As a parent with a child entering in [Fall] 2019 and another one coming in 2020, the athletics fee, for me coming in into the Brownsville campus, seems excessive only because it’s just an amount here; I didn’t see any breakdown,” the parent said. “As a parent of students, I would like to see that, to get a better understanding of why $13.65.”

Anderson replied by saying the Athletics budget is about $11 million, which is the second lowest in the Western Athletics Conference. He said Athletics, like other departments at UTRGV, does not have an extravagant budget.

In an interview with The Rider after the meeting, Farias said he was not satisfied with the response he received in the forum.

“I didn’t get to hear how the money is being managed currently,” he said. “Here, as students from the Brownsville campus, we also pay for those fees. So, if we pay here, why don’t we get to see those things? I know the argument will be, ‘Well, you can drive to Edinburg or you can take a shuttle and go,’ but it’s not the same thing. … My argument was what is the department doing to show athletics on the Brownsville campus, so at least the students can feel like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve contributed and I see it.’”

The Rider spoke with Athletics Director Chris King after the forum and he said he understands where the concerns from the Brownsville campus community come from.

“We have done quite a bit as far as the athletics marketing down here on the [Brownsville] campus and there’s probably a lot of things that students aren’t aware of,” King said. “The students on the Brownsville campus, the students on the Edinburg campus or Harlingen campus, they all get the same, whether it’s email, the marketing material, the information that is sent out to the student body as far as upcoming games and things like that. No one is any different.”

He said the department is looking into different ways of increasing the awareness of athletics on the Brownsville campus.

One idea being looked at is hiring a graduate assistant to be part of the UTRGV Street Team, specifically for Athletics, King said.

The proposal recommends an athletics fee of $13.65 per credit hour capped at 12 credit hours; a transportation fee of $5 per credit hour capped at 12 credit hours; and a Student Services fee of $7 per credit hour capped at 12 credit hours.

The purpose of today’s forum was to inform students on the proposed plan to increase designated tuition and split the Student Services fee into three separate charges: athletics, transportation and student activities. More than 40 campus community members attended the event.

Currently, UTRGV students pay a Student Services fee of $249.96 per long semester, which is $20.83 per credit hour capped at 12 credit hours.

Tuition for students who entered in Fall 2017 is $3,060. The proposed tuition for students entering in Fall 2018 is $3,173 and $3,273 for students entering in Fall 2019, both capped at 12 credit hours.

As previously reported by The Rider, the transportation and athletics fees would require a student referendum and legislative statute if approved by the University of Texas System board of regents.

A referendum is a vote conducted to determine student support for a measure or a new mandatory fee. It is a process that enables any group to place an issue directly onto a public ballot for approval or rejection.

Any new mandatory student fee must be approved by a majority of voting students and 20 percent of the registered student population must vote. Without student approval, the fee cannot be assessed.

If the new fees are approved by students, the proposal would be presented before the Texas Legislature, which is scheduled to meet in January 2019.

The proposal for the athletics fee is based on its current allocation from the Student Services fee. The transportation fee’s current allocation is 97 cents per credit hour while student activities receives $6.21 per credit hour.

A second Tuition and Fee forum is scheduled from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the Student Union Theater on the Edinburg campus.

Campus and community members may send feedback and suggestions to T&Fcommittee@utrgv.edu.

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