Mississippi State University students are going to have the opportunity to vote on Tuesday to raise the student activity fee from $5 to $25 a semester. There are dozens of reasons for MSU students to vote in favor of this change, far too many to fit in one article, so I will have to try and hit the highlights.
First, I need to be extremely clear: this is not a tuition raise. Tuition raises are determined by the university and the Mississippi Legislature, and the increased funding they provide can go towards whatever the university chooses. Students have no guarantee that their own interests will be prioritized. The student activity fee, however, is a different story. When it was created several years ago, a campus-wide vote demonstrated significant support for a student activity fee which funded programs and projects on campus designated free for all students. The same poll showed students specifically prioritized campus concerts and events, funding for student organizations and recreational opportunities as destinations for the newly created funding pool. This is fundamentally different from tuition raises because it puts power back in the hands of students, allowing them to dictate where the money goes in a given semester through campus-wide polling or Student Association representation. By raising it for the next academic year, we will only put more power in the hands of students. Here is what we want to do with it.
The student activity fee will continue to fund the things it has traditionally gone to, such as Bulldog Bash, homecoming festivities and student organizations who apply for funding through the Student Association. In addition, the Student Association intends to direct much of the newly acquired funding from the fee raise to the Sanderson Center and other university recreation facilities. This is an area of campus that is falling behind compared to our Southeastern Conference (SEC) counterparts, and students want to see it addressed. The best way to do that is to do it ourselves.
In the first four semesters after raising the fee, 60% of the funds will be directed towards the Sanderson, an approximate $1.1 million in funding for massive renovations and upgrades. After working with President Mark Keenum and Chief Financial Officer Don Zant, the university has agreed to match student investment, meaning upwards of $2 million earmarked for moving MSU's recreation facilities forward over the next two years. There are multiple projects this money will go to, from small things like Wi-Fi at the intramural fields to larger scale projects like the creation of an entirely new workout facility upstairs which will replace some of the Sanderson's existing racquetball courts.
Additionally, significant funds will be directed towards the "old intramural fields," located south of Fresh Food Company, to revamp the space into an attractive multi-use recreational area, with lighting for 24-hour usage. These changes are a huge win for students, and I have not even mentioned what bigger, better campus concerts and events like Bulldog Bash and Cowbell Yell might look like if we secure this additional funding.
It is also useful to examine our student activity fee in comparison with the rest of the state and the SEC. MSU's $5-a-semester student activity fee simply does not compare. It is the lowest in both categories, tied with The University of Mississippi, a school that is also making preliminary plans to raise their fee along with us. Delta State University and Jackson State University lead Mississippi with $25-a-semester student activity fee. The vast majority of SEC schools are above $100 a semester in student activity fees, with the average hovering around $250, and Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee leading the way at $715 and $519 a semester, respectively. While we by no means intend to raise our fees this high, a simple $20-a-semester raise could mean so much more for our students. Since I am a senior, I will not get to see it go into effect next year. Instead, I look forward to watching from afar as MSU students enjoy the benefits of more campus concerts and events, more funding for student organizations and more recreation opportunities. It is past time for us to take the next step, to give more power to our students. I hope you will vote yes on the Oct. 5 homecoming ballot, and you will remember exactly what that vote will mean for students.