By JACK MECCIA
$209 per person – it’s the current student activity fee. The figure that, every semester, funds undergraduate entertainment and extracurriculars. If the number is aggregated, there’s certainly a hefty sum of money to allocate and manage. Sure, it costs $209 on average to pay for all these expenditures, but let’s make things interesting by examining another aspect of that number’s meaning; namely, the benefit. Weigh this consideration in a practical sense: if you had the choice, would you pay $209 (excluding ticket prices, etc.) for the overall value the student activity fee provides?
I suspect that, in many cases, the response will be yes. For the typical student, clubs and school-funded activities are probably worth it. Understand, however, that whether or not you would give that $209 to the Student Finance Board is an entirely separate question. There’s a compelling alternative here that needs to be explored.
Picture a different method of ensuring that $209 gets used for student activities. The money is still taken from your semester bill, but instead of it being transferred to SFB, you have a balance of $209 in a “funds transfer account,” bearing a resemblance to PayPal. Every registered student organization has an account, and individuals have the option of giving the money to whichever group they wish (they’re also free to add their own money). But clubs aren’t the only ones with accounts. Others can post events, such as concerts or performances, that are authorized to pool funds. Such a system would have a number of desirable features worth discussing.
The first is greater choice. Direct translation of student preferences to programs is a difficult process. For example, the College Union Board regularly surveys students prior to coordinating a concert or comedy show. But artist availability and pricing produce logistical constraints, to say nothing of CUB’s goal of bringing “different” acts to campus. Under the existing system, preferences are certainly not sufficient to ensure outcomes that reflect (to the greatest possible degree) individual desires. But an alternative that allows direct movement from choice to event would fully reflect the wants, and most importantly, first choices, of individuals.
Why even bring artists to campus? TCNJ is right between New York City and Philadelphia, where popular acts make regular appearances. College students aren’t incapable of making a simple trip into the city, especially if it means seeing someone like Incubus instead of, say, Cartel. The better approach would be to let students use their activity fee to partially defer their transportation and ticket expenses, and pay the rest out of pocket — because tickets for college shows have to be bought anyway.
The second advantage here is inclusion. Organizations and event planners would have an even more vested interest in securing participants. The rationale is simple. People respond to incentives, and if money had to be voluntarily transferred, only those clubs and events with an adequate and committed membership could afford to hold events. Consequently, those vying for funds would do more to include a greater audience, which would ramp up extracurricular involvement, as well as make casual members feel a greater sense of involvement.
On a related, and third, point, the system would provide a self-checking mechanism to ensure quality. Should an event not meet the expectations of those who contributed funds to it, there will be future repercussions. Students won’t be as apt to commit money next time, which applies a constant pressure to perform. With CUB in control of a programming, we can’t take money away from them if, say, we didn’t appreciate the skydiving rant during the Greg Giraldo/Michael Ian Black show. But under the system I’m advocating, not only is that option there, it is encouraged as part of value assurance.
Although I frequently reference entertainment as a way of utilizing the student activity fee, there are many other options. Academic initiatives are an important consideration here. After all, college is a place to acquire knowledge. But the trouble is that, within a given student population, there will be a significant divergence in intellectual tastes. TCNJ students are mostly smart people who want to learn, but they prefer to learn about different things. For example, lectures about cultural norms might be of interest to some, but others just aren’t going to attend. On the other side of the spectrum, if a remarkable athletic trainer were slated to speak at a nearby gym, I’m sure a number of students would go if they could divert their student activity fund to it.
A fourth advantage is full recognition of available opportunities. Many times, there are interesting (off-campus) events that students would probably go to but don’t know anything about. Searching for these things can be tedious, especially if one doesn’t know they exist in the first place. But having a categorized database of events to transfer money to certainly puts things out in the open, especially since organizers will actively canvass for your money.
I’m not saying CUB and SFB don’t have good intentions. For the most part, they do. But it’s extremely difficult to gauge student interest, and come up with workable solutions that maximize student satisfaction and involvement from such a highly centralized system. Recognize that an organization like CUB derives its strength not from its ability to coordinate workable, but admittedly second-tier options. Rather, its effectiveness stems from the concept of value creation through economies of scale. It’s a lot easier to save money when resources are pooled. What I’m advocating is an approach that gives this power, through autonomy and choice, to responsible college students who know, better than anyone else, what they want.