Volunteer Writer: Gabriel Johnson
It’s incredibly clear that there is an immense hesitance to comply with school financial processes that take additional funds away from the students even after the immense expense of enrolling in the school in the first place.
Tuition & Room/Board are the primary costs examined when making the grand decision of where to pursue higher education, but as we’ve all come to know, that isn’t where the price tag stops; several additional fees, meal passes, textbooks, and even parking are all significant portions to the now hefty cost of the path to a degree.
This leads to predictable frustration on the part of the students, with infinitely rising tuition, almost 200% higher than the cost a few decades ago, constant inflation without increased wages to balance the fact, and the dangerous balance of working a job while committing to schoolwork all factoring into our current situation the bills students are handed are now almost impossible to deal with.
Where does this leave the students of UMass Dartmouth?
An interesting piece of information about the undergrad population in particular, which makes up 75%~ of enrolled students, is that about 74% of students receive financial aid. Whether that’s in the form of loans, pell grants, scholarships, in some way or another, most students on campus are receiving some kind of help towards their final bill.
Yet financial struggles are still incredibly prevalent.
Not to mention a new potential policy has been recently announced where students with seven tickets will have their vehicle towed to an off-campus site, and the student will be charged for every day the car spends on the lot.
This is coupled with the hold that is placed on license renewal until all outstanding tickets are paid.
An incredibly interesting piece of information I was imparted by my supervisor Kimberly Wilson at the Labor Education Center was the fact that parking on campus was, at one point, completely free. No passes, no constricting zones, no fees adding further to the bill.
Following this piece of info, I was connected to the former Union President of the UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation, Bruce Sparfven.
Bruce and I spoke on the history of policy on campus concerning budgets as well as how parking came to be as we know it.
Our conversation brought us back to when he first started at the school and the state it was in.
“When I first arrived, what we charged was simple: tuition, room and board.”
Bruce’s comment was followed by a hearty laugh at the absurdity of how far from that past we currently are.
“What the schools began to do to fill gaps left by constantly shrinking state funding was to seek out extra operating budget funds by way of creating additional fees. We became so good at making fees that all the different charges had to be consolidated into a single line which came to be known as Fees, which in a way obscured exactly what that money was going towards.”
Parking followed a similar philosophy.
Prior to 2007, there were no parking passes, but the issues that we are facing now were still prevalent back then.
The sentiment was that there was sufficient parking on campus, but not in the right places. Spaces were too far away from key buildings that students needed to get to.
Seeing that there was a parking issue, the admin came up with a policy that they saw as beneficial. They would institute a required pass policy for parking in order to deter folks away from the more sought-after spots rather than addressing parking accessibility as a whole.
The twist is this policy was initially pointed at faculty and staff. They would be charged for the passes, not the student body.
But the Union Federation voted against charging anyone for parking on campus.
They believed it was a practice that should never be a part of this campus and that it would go against the culture of affordability the school prided itself on.
While it died on the voting floor, that wasn’t the last time the policy would be seen, as we all know. Unbeknownst to the Union, the policy was then passed on to the students.
Admin at the time had close ties with the SGA leadership and assured them that the policy would bring nothing but good change for the student body and eventually everyone would benefit from it eventually.
Thus they subtly added another fee to the list under the guise of a practice that would “be for the benefit of all.”
“The leaders were wined and dined y’know?” Bruce explained.
“All these promises and reassurances were made to the leadership specifically and not the student body. So because of the established trust the SGA leadership didn’t fight back against the new policy, but they were seniors. So they go off to graduate and start their careers, and everyone else comes back from summer to now being charged for parking out of nowhere.”
Bruce put specific emphasis on the fact that these policies were never intended to address problems with parking but were a way to supplement the school’s operating budget that the state wasn’t sufficiently supporting.
Taking all this into account, one can begin to wonder.
If there is already so much that the students are charged for in combination with ceaseless price increases and students still struggling financially, how can we justify another fee thrown on top of it?
I spoke with a few students to get their thoughts and opinions on the matter. Here’s what they had to say.
Will, a Junior currently enrolled in the school’s Nursing program, said that “the parking pass should be included with the room and board fee of tuition and should be able to be opted out of. Paying out of pocket each semester is not sustainable for me.”
Caroline, a Junior in the Health & Society program, commented, “just outrageous cause I be broke.”
Lois, another Junior majoring in Health & Society, stated: “I completely disagree with this. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the school to advise people to treat people and their financial problems with more respect. To issue a weeklong ticket to a person is one thing; to begin towing is quite another. If the school is that tight, I believe they ought to be checking up on that student, sending emails, and explaining why they are unable to purchase a parking pass.”
It’s clear that there’s much to be done around the hot topic of parking on campus.
If budgeting is a large issue motivating such policies, maybe the students, faculty, and admin need to turn and face the state to demand a more flexible budget.
Clearly, communication, proper inclusion in policy decisions, and valuing students’ financial statuses would go a long way in soothing the growing tensions around a matter that seems like a burden more and more each day.