Each semester, full-time undergraduate students pay $272 for an “activity fee” remitted to Shippensburg University Student Services Incorporated (SUSSI) for the purpose of managing and disbursing funds for all student activities, including intercollegiate athletics, club sports, performing arts, student media, cultural groups and on-campus programming.
The Student Government Association (SGA) Budget and Finance Committee creates the budget to distribute activity fees each year, and this budget must be approved by the University President, the SGA Senate and the SUSSI Board of Directors.
I have had the privilege of serving on this committee for three and a half years, chairing it for a year and a half before resigning in October 2022. Graduate students pay a slightly reduced fee and part-time students are billed per credit. These fees are intended to cover the vast majority – if not the full cost – of a student’s on-campus extra-curricular involvement; however, this has become less and less true over time.
The student activity fee has remained the same since 2016 despite record inflation, staggering declines in enrollment (causing decreased fee revenue) and a large number of fixed expenses. In letters to campus in April 2021 and April 2020, I articulated that the reason for no fee increases and large expense cuts was that the past two University Presidents would not approve of any fee increases approved by the committee, based on the intent of keeping the “Cost of Attendance” flat-lined (or lower) at Shippensburg University.
As a result, SUSSI has had no choice but to cut expenses dramatically. The student experience has (and will likely continue) to decline as operating budgets are removed or reduced, facilities and uniform replacement cycles are not maintained, services are decreased and the resources available to hold engaging programs decline. According to SUSSI’s 2021 financial statements, their operating expenses have shrunk by over 25% since 2016, which is in line with enrollment decreases. Yet they maintain a $550,000 + deficit to close by year end of fiscal year 2023-2024 before running out of reserves.
Expenses can only be reduced so much while the budget is still required to maintain all athletic facilities, travel expenses, uniforms, the CAT bus system, personnel and other high-value capital investments. Reducing “general operating budgets” for all other non-athletic and non-personnel budget lines to zero still would not close the deficit. Continuing to dramatically cut expenses will not solve the SUSSI deficit problem and certainly would greatly damage the activities and experiences at Shippensburg that retain students and recruit new students every year. Activity fees must be increased to close the budget deficit and leave some remnant of a vibrant student experience at Shippensburg.
According to SGA records, a fee increase was approved by the student-run committee in 2019, 2020 and 2021, yet was never incorporated in the final approved budget. From talking to hundreds of students regarding this over the past three years, we collectively would rather pay slightly more (say $20/semester) in fees than see a damaging cut to our student experience.