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USAC candidates advocate for greater transparency in UCLA student fees

Dollar bills in a pocket are pictured. Candidates for the USAC president and general representative positions said they planned to increase transparency of student fees’ usage and awareness of the ability to opt out of some.
(Constanza Montemayor/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Dylan Winward

May 4, 2023 11:30 p.m.

Multiple candidates in the upcoming Undergraduate Students Association Council elections have pledged to address student fee transparency, including the option to opt out of certain fees.

UCLA student fees come from referendums on the ballot each year. A referendum is first proposed to USAC, which then approves it for the ballot. 20% of undergraduate students must vote in the election, and 50% of voters must approve a referendum for it to pass. While some fees are designated toward specific initiatives, such as the quarterly Bruin Bash fees, others add to funds that can be allocated at the council’s discretion.

[Related: Inside the green campus fee that collects hundreds of thousands more than it spends]

Bryce Busch, a candidate for USAC president, said if elected, he would try to generate attention for student fees by using social media to inform students about where the fees go.

“The problem with student fees is that we are paying over $1,000, across all four years, and students don’t really care or know where that money is going,” he said.

Busch added he would work to ensure that more members of USAC file their budgetary transparency reports in a more timely manner. The timeliness of transparency reports has been regularly addressed at USAC meetings this year.

“We are given a big platform in these offices, and if they’re not being honest to the student body, I don’t know if they should be able to talk during council meetings,” he said.

However, Busch said he did not oppose student fees, adding he felt proposing a fee to fund the Black Bruin Resource Center was important.

Students lack an understanding of the student fees they pay, including how to access the benefits of fees such as the Instructional Enhancement Initiative fee, which goes toward funding access to computer software, computer labs and video recording technology for students, said Katie Pool, a candidate for general representative.

“It’s really important that students know what they’re paying for and also that they’re reaping the benefits,” said Pool, a second-year business economics student.

Some referendums also outline fee increases from year to year based on inflation rates or other reasons. Some fees have had increases that are more than the current inflation rate, Pool said, adding that she hopes to make these increases more transparent. She also said she hopes to make information about what projects the fees go toward easier for students to find online.

Pool added that she hopes to bring more awareness to optional student fees, such as the UC Student Association fee.

According to the UCSA website, the UCSA fee – an optional charge of $7 per year – funds lobbying efforts on behalf of students. This year, the fee aims to fund $1.7 million toward projects such as federal government relations lobbying and running conferences, according to UCSA’s proposed budget for 2023.

The UCSA fee previously provided $31.5 million of funding last year for student programming, which covers the Underground Scholars Initiative, outreach to public high school students, undocumented student programs and more. In addition, UCSA is a co-sponsor of $6 million in funding for resource centers for former foster youths at UC schools, said Alex Niles, the president of UCSA. The funding has also gone toward sponsoring bills requiring sexual harassment and sexual violence information to be published at fraternity and sorority houses, facilitating the removal of California Environmental Quality Act regulation on UC student housing, and expanding the Cal Grant, Niles said.

“Without us, the student body as a whole would not have dedicated, organized representation to the state and federal government or to UC’s administration,” said Niles. “At the federal level, this translated to UCSA being the leader of student advocacy to Double the Pell as part of a nationwide coalition.”

Students can opt out of the fee through their MyUCLA portal, according to the UCLA website. Only 7.6% of UCLA students opted out of the fee this academic year, Niles said.

Pool said she would lobby for the option to opt out to be clearer on students’ BruinBills if elected.

“I think it’s (the percentage of people who opt out) so low because people aren’t aware of it,” Pool said. “I wasn’t even aware that I could opt out of this fee.”

Pool added that she felt student fees were important because, unlike tuition, they were an affordability measure that students had the ability to impact.

“The student fees make up a very small percentage of what we pay at UCLA, but they make up a percentage of what we pay that specifically we can change,” Pool said.

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Dylan Winward | Features and student life editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
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