Undergraduates are easy

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Undergraduate voters
With elections impending, I wanted to take a look at a Special Fees practice that could be contributing to the astronomical increases in fees paid by undergraduates: the shifting of costs from graduate students to undergraduates.

Let me explain: There are two types of special fees a group can apply for, joint or undergraduate special fees. Undergraduate special fees require the “Yes” vote of at least 15% of the undergraduate population, and more yes votes than no votes. Joint special fees require the same thing of BOTH the undergraduate and graduate populations, independently.

And this is where things get interesting: grads differ from undergrads significantly in voting behavior. Less grads vote, and way more vote “No” than undergrads. Different reasons for this are given, the most likely reason is that grads are most often paying their own way, and are more conscious about where their dollars are headed. They most likely pay more attention to the actual applications, as opposed to voting yes down the column (a practice that I admit to succumbing to as a Freshman here at the Farm).

Thus, some groups, who provide services to both grads and undergraduates, might be tempted by the allure of applying to undergrad only special fees. Case in point: The Stanford Daily.

In 2007, the Stanford Daily applied for Joint Special Fees. They were only endorsed by 26.77% of the voting graduate population, and 82% of the voting undergraduate population. While this resulted in an overall statistic of 61% yes among voters, they still did not qualify for Joint Special Fees, and lost out on their *all *their Special Fees money.

From this point forward, the Daily has applied to Undergraduate Special Fees alone, despite the fact that their product clearly is distributed and targeted towards both undergraduates and graduates.

And, unsurprisingly, the have capitalized on the near 80% undergraduate approval for the Daily, and succeeded in winning their special fees election last year.

For full disclosure, I do not intend to single out the Daily; there are many other groups that offer a large number of services to the graduate community yet seek Undergraduate Special Fees. However, the Daily serves as a great example of a new breed of VSO; one which seeks to obtain every possible advantage to guarantee success in the electoral process, regardless of their target population.

So, what does it all mean? Well, undergraduates are getting the brunt of special fees request, and that is part of the reason why undergraduate special fees have risen at the levels we’ve seen. Furthermore, they are subsidizing significant services for graduate students.

As if voters needed one more reminder on election day, think long and hard about whether it is fair for a group to petition for Undergraduate Special Fees, and not Joint; it is a too often overlooked fact.

Then again, undergrads are easy: most likely we’ll see another “all special fees passed” year.

Matthew Sprague served as Director of Capital Group, which manages student group banking and financial services, during the ‘08-‘09 academic year. His opinions do not in any way reflect those of the ASSU or Stanford Student Enterprises.

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