Every semester, undergraduate students at Binghamton University are required to pay a $99 student activity fee to the Student Association, but an upcoming referendum vote could make the fee optional next fall.
The Student Association (SA) uses the activity fee to fund Harpur’s Ferry student ambulance, Off Campus College Transport (OCCT), concerts, lectures and over 300 student groups on campus. The vote on the fee occurs every two years, as required by SUNY Board of Trustees Policy 3901, and will be attached to the SA election ballot on Tuesday, March 20.
Harry Bittker, a junior majoring in political science and chair of the SA Election Committee, said making the fee voluntary would likely end all large-scale programming, raise ticket prices for students and eliminate many on-campus jobs.
“The student activity fee is 100 percent allocated to and managed by the Student Association, adding up to a roughly $2.7 million annual budget,” Bittker wrote in an email. “This fee covers the costs of essential services, extracurriculars and Spring Fling and other programming.”
According to students at Harpur’s Ferry and OCCT, making the fee optional could eliminate their funding. Stephen Baumgarten, chief and executive director of Harpur’s Ferry and a second-year graduate student studying public administration and teaching, said the money his organization receives from the SA supports over 98 percent of their budget.
“That includes funding our vehicle fleet, maintaining our equipment, ensuring we are in compliance with [New York State] Department of Health regulations surrounding EMS operations,” Baumgarten wrote in an email. “Harpur’s Ferry could be seriously vulnerable if this referendum passes. If the student activity fee were optional, then we would be at the mercy of those who wanted to pay and who did not.”
Glenell Jaquez, OCCT’s public relations coordinator and a first-year graduate student studying accounting, said the student activity fee becoming optional could affect the number of buses running and OCCT’s ability to pay drivers and managers for their work.
“We pay for all of the bus parts ourselves,” Jaquez said. “It’s not the University. That funding comes from there. Our cleaners, our gas. It’s everything.”
However, Samuel Garcia, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, said he does not use these services and is not a member of any SA-sponsored group. According to Garcia, because of this, he does not feel the benefit of the expense and would choose to opt out of paying the fee.
“I don’t really participate in any events that are included in the fee,” Garcia said. “I feel like I don’t need to pay for it, so I shouldn’t. If it’s optional, I feel like that’s a better way of going about it because to some students that [money] means a lot to them and they have to pay that. It can take from their budget or whatever they really need that money for.”
Bianca Grant, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said she wants the fee to remain mandatory because it sponsors so many services at BU.
“I don’t mind paying for that stuff,” Grant said. “I use the bus all the time. I use Harpur’s Ferry. It’s for a good cause.”
Libby Aliberti, SA vice president for programming and a senior majoring in biology, said she worries about the result of the referendum, as it could affect a substantial amount of student life.
“I hope students vote to keep this fee mandatory, as it is a small price to pay for all of the events that add depth and creativity to education at Binghamton,” Alberti wrote in an email. “Education does not only occur in the classroom, and this fee allows for both educational and entertaining events that bring together differing perspectives and allow people to explore their interests while having a little fun during their time in college.”