Editorial: Student financial burdens expand along with facilities

Herald Editorial Board

The Issue: In a University Senate meeting last Thursday, Feb. 15, members discussed a cost increase to the $75 mandatory meal plan balance fee for students. Claus Ernst, the newly elected faculty member on the Board of Regents, said in a recent article that per-semester fees could rise to $150 for the fall 2018 semester, and $300 by the following fall.

Our Stance: The current $75 meal plan fee, commonly known as “flex dollars,” is a direct result of a 20-year contract with food service company Aramark former university president Gary Ransdell signed shortly before he left WKU. The intention of the fee was to help aid in funding large renovations to Garrett Conference Center. While these cost increases are mere proposals, the university is in the midst of a $40 million dollar budget deficit and students should not have to bear the costs of upgrades while the university is “reducing [its] workforce” and program budgets are being torn apart.

Former university President Gary Ransdell left a legacy of heavy campus expansion and an emphasis on international reach. But that’s not all he left behind. In his final semester as president, Ransdell signed a contract with Aramark food service to be the university’s primary provider of dining and catering services for the next 20 years.

One of the provisions provided in the contract was a plan to generate enough revenue to conduct renovations worth $35 million on Garrett Conference Center, a building which hasn’t undergone any major updates since it was first built in 1951.

The question each person who hears of costly renovations to a university during a time where higher education has become a huge target for budget reductions under Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration is this: who’s going to pay for this?

In this situation, the cost-bearers are “face-to-face” students who take 12 or more hours at Bowling Green’s main campus who don’t pay for a meal plan. The original $75 mandatory fee isn’t much in the grand scheme of things when you consider the total cost of what we’ll pay in the long run for a college degree. However, along the same lines of a previous editorial published in the College Heights Herald warning against raising student athletic fees for scoreboard renovations, an issue of ethics arises when the administration sees its students as financial scapegoats for its often far too lofty expansion goals.

What’s even more alarming is that the University Senate passed a resolution last year “strongly against the [Aramark] contract” while the information received by the Senate and the Board of Regents was not complete during the time the Aramark letter of intent was originally signed.

In addition to the ethical implications of this contract, a student who does not purchase meal plans most likely means he or she is eating on campus less to avoid shelling out thousands of dollars for one of the university’s preferred meal plans. Essentially, these students are paying for not having a meal plan, implying that the university doesn’t make enough money off of us as it is.

While the contract has already proven to be unpopular in the University Senate, the consequences of current university President Timothy Caboni going back on the contract signature and the implications it would hold for any future contracts is pure speculation at this point.

This editorial is not against necessary improvements and renovations to WKU. We at the Herald understand the importance of competing against other universities in the state to attract students who will be successful and that includes improving facilities in a fiscally responsible manner.

The primary issue is that students, who are often already going into debt to be able to go to college, are being burdened with even more fees to fund improvements some of them won’t even get to experience, all while their program budgets are getting cut and the university continues to reduce its workforce.