A collection of seemingly small student fees from thousands of people attending San Jose State can add up to millions of dollars.
In order to fund “Instructionally Related Activities,” or IRA, the university charges all students a $163.50 flat fee on top of their tuition each semester.
The money collected from IRA fees must be allocated to programs that are categorized as “instructionally related” under Title 5 of California’s education code. The fee is one of three different Student Success, Excellence and Technology (SSETF) in the SJSU budget.
Intercollegiate athletics and programs designed to bring hands-on experience to students in the fields of radio, film and television are included in the definition.
The total revenue from IRA fees added up to more than $10 million dollars for the 2018-2019 school year, according to the SJSU budget.
“When I looked at the numbers I really questioned how the IRA fee has been distributed,” said outgoing Associated Students President Ariadna Manzo.
Approximately 85% of the revenue collected went toward the SJSU athletics department.
More than $8 million of the money given to the department was used for team transportation, recruitment, event expenses, operational expenses and informational technology, according to the SJSU Annual Budget Report.
Close to $900,000 was used for salaries and benefits.
“That’s something I felt needed to be a little more transparent,” Manzo said. “Last year a student came up to me to talk about athletic funding and how come there’s not more money going towards things that would support their academic needs.”
Only about 15% of IRA fees are allocated toward academic affairs, which receives about $1.7 million.
Academic affairs includes resources such as late-night study hours in the library and technology for students to use outside of the classroom.
Money for academic affairs from SSETF funded 24-hour study time in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, late-night tutoring and more academic advisors, according to SJSU’s website.
The university president decides what programs are awarded money, but the decision must precede a review of the proposed funding by a student and faculty advisory committee, according to CSU policy.
At SJSU, a group of students and faculty that make up the Campus Fee Advisory Committee review changes in student fees and proposed funding from them, as required by CSU Student Fee Policy.
“What I’m advocating for is for there to be a reevaluation of this IRA fee,” Manzo said. “It has grown so much and other things that can receive IRA funds have not been consistently growing.”
Manzo said that she was concerned about the unevenness in funding between academic affairs and the athletics department.
From fall 2011 to spring 2015, funding allocated toward academic affairs decreased by 7%, while athletic funding increased by 7%, according to documents from the budget advisory committee.
The gap between funding for the two is larger than it was seven years ago.
According to documents from the SJSU budget advisory committee, about $139.50 of each IRA fee was allocated toward athletics and $24.00 of each fee was allocated toward academic affairs in 2018.
Part of the fee increase was specifically to generate more revenue for the athletics department, Marna Genes, the senior associate vice president of finance, said.
“It had built into it incremental increases over the next four years,” Genes said. “The fee was increased just for athletics.”
Genes said that after the fee increase was approved for athletics, the Office of Administration and Finance bundled course fees, student success fees and IRA fees together, in order to fund more academic resources in fall 2012.
However, it was later unbundled in fall of 2014 to improve transparency over the use of student fees, according to a statement by then-SJSU president Mohammad Qayoumi.
After seeing the divide between funding for athletics and academic affairs, Manzo addressed her concerns to other members of Campus Fee Advisory Committee.
Branden Parent, a member of the committee and Associated Students president-elect, said that learning about each student fees can be a struggle for incoming committee members.
“The one thing [the committee] doesn’t do, there’s really no prep course to it,” Parent said. “Usually [members] sit on [the committee] once a year, and then the next person has to learn.”
Manzo said the uneven distribution may be fine, but she explained there needs to be increased transparency over where the funds are going.
“The need might not even be to proportionally distribute them, like that might not even be necessary,” Manzo said. “The other departments might have money, so why are you going to give student fee money to where they don’t even need it.”
The obstacle toward increasing transparency is finding a channel of communication that will reach students, said Campus Fee Advisory Committee member Ravisha Mathur.
“That’s the struggle, how to best communicate information to students,” Mathur said.
She said that when faculty have asked for feedback on the best way to communicate students, the answer has been, “not [over] email.”
In addition, Mathur believes that there must be an explanation about how the funds are being used.
“If you’re given a break down of the fees, like, saying this percentage of this particular fee goes to athletics, some students will read that and say ‘OK.’ ” Mathur said. “They also have to have meaning around it.”
The Spartan Daily previously said that the information of $139.50 per fee being allocated toward athletics and $24.00 per fee being allocated toward academic affairs in 2018 was derived from the SJSU website. The information was actually found in documents from the SJSU budget advisory committee. The Spartan Daily regrets this error.