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Nearly $14M annually in Rec Sports fees: Where do they go?

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Ohio State students pay $82 per quarter as a part of a required Recreation Sports fee, and some student organizations want to know exactly where that nearly $14 million is going.

More than three months after a line-item budget was requested, the university cannot explicitly say where these student dollars are going and a top OSU official apologized for the lack of transparency.

Nick Messenger, president of Undergraduate Student Government, said required student fees are intended to be used exclusively for student services. He said it should be clear where that money is going.

“I want to be able to say ‘here’s where your student fee dollars go,'” Messenger said.

Brandon Edwards, chair of the Rec Sports committee representing USG, said the university gives students a detailed list of how the student fees are divided up.

“Having the fees laid out in an itemized fashion so that we’re able to see the breakdown of costs is helpful for students,” Edwards said.

But Messenger said he wants to know where these student dollars are going.

“There should be a really strong oversight mechanism for students to have input and feedback and to know where that money is going,” Messenger said.

In an attempt to find exactly where these student fees are going, Messenger said USG requested detailed budget information in October.

“We are just curious what’s going on because they have some great programming over there and it’s a great facility,” Messenger said. “What’s kind of unfolded since then has been a three-month gray area where we haven’t gotten the budget information we requested and we, as students, should be able to get budget information for something like this.”

Messenger said the process has been long and difficult.

“We’ve found it to be a more difficult process to identify where those fee dollars are going,” Messenger said.

In a Council on Student Affairs meeting Tuesday afternoon, Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of Student Life, apologized for the lack of transparency in producing a line-item budget in a timely manner.

“I just wanted to say thank you to the people who took the time to put all this information together and apologize that it has not happened in a while. This should have happened last year and the year before that and the year before that,” Adams-Gaston said. “We are in the age of transparency and officials begin to and continue to share information with the students, as they should.”

Student fees are line-item costs that students are required to pay every quarter in addition to tuition. The Board of Trustees has to approve all fees, and the Rec Sports fee is the largest non-academic fee that an OSU student pays.

At $82 per quarter, and once the university switches to the semester system, $123 per semester, students can expect to pay $984 in four years at the university for the Rec Sports fee.

Fees such as the Rec Sports fee, the Student Activity fee, the Student Legal Services fee, the Student Union Facility fee and the COTA Bus Service fee are not included in the posted cost of tuition.

The general instructional cost for the 2011-12 school year is $2,952 per quarter, or $8,856 for a standard three-quarter year. However, the total cost to be an OSU student for a quarter, excluding academic fees that vary by program, is $3,245 per quarter. This does not include the $40 Student Legal Services fee, which is paid only once a year.

That cost adds up to $9,775 (including the one-time SLS fee) for the 2011-12 school year, which includes exactly $919 in fees, for a standard three-quarter year.

In a four-year period, students at OSU pay $3,676 in required fees.

Ohio government has restrictions on tuition increases from year to year, and per Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget approved last year, any tuition increase is limited to 3.5 percent.

“However, in the infinite wisdom of the Ohio government, we haven’t created any law that governs fees,” Messenger said.

At the CSA meeting, Don Stenta, director of Rec Sports, presented budgetary information for Rec Sports.

“We’ve been able to produce and analyze some information coming from recreational sports and detail what I think will be very helpful to Undergraduate Student Government and our student body here at Ohio State,” Stenta said.

According to projection documents, the Rec Sports fee accounts for about $13.6 million, or 69.15 percent of the total Rec Sports revenue for the 2012 fiscal year.

Stenta said the Rec Sports fee goes into a pool of money that is used to pay off debt accumulated by Rec Sports. Debt can include staffing expenses, equipment repair and the general cost of equipment.

In July 1998, when the Rec Sports fee was added for projects that led to the creation of the RPAC, the ARC and the PAES Building, the Board of Trustees clarified the use of the fee. The resolution said the fee be used “to retire the debt service and fund operations for the student recreation portion of the facility.”

Messenger said that because most of the money is coming from students, most should come directly back to students.

“You have a student base that pays about 70 percent of total costs of operating the Recreational Sports program,” Messenger said. “So if you have a service where 70 percent of your money is paid by one consumer group, that consumer group should be getting the most bang for its buck.”

Messenger pointed at intramurals and fitness classes as good examples where students pay an additional fee, on top of the required Rec Sports fee.

“You’re paying extra to take a yoga class or register for a team sport, so you’re paying on top of your fee,” Messenger said. “It’s just kind of this mess of services that should be paid for by the Recreational Sports fee, are not.”

Around the Big Ten, Recreation fees range from $0 at Purdue, Penn State and Michigan State, all the way up to $187 per semester at Illinois.

“The Big Ten gives you a sort of comparison, but it’s not always apples to apples and oranges to oranges,” Stenta said. “You can imagine what the facilities might look like that have very small recreational fees.”

Bryan Ashton, chair on CSA, said the breakdown of budget information at the CSA meeting was informative, but there are still more questions that need answered.

“This is a positive first step,” Ashton said. “The next step is to figure out where the student money goes, rather than just into a general pool of money.”

Messenger agreed, saying this meeting has opened the door to answering more questions.

“We’ve taken that first step to clarifying where we’re going,” Messenger said. “What can we do with (Adams-Gaston) and with Student Life to make sure we don’t get into a situation again where we don’t know where fee money goes?”

Messenger said the Rec Sports fee is not the only fee USG will be looking into.

“We’re taking a look at the fees and what’s absolutely necessary,” Messenger said. “We need to have strong oversight on and transparency to see where that money is actually going.”

 

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