Looking to renovate its football stadium, Washington State University is turning to an increasingly common source of financing.
A letter writer in the student paper called it the “Bank of Associated Cougar Students.”
Students at WSU have voted in recent years to add $480 a year in fees to build a recreation center and expand the student union. Now, administrators hope to renovate and expand the football stadium. Students will vote today and Wednesday on whether to assess themselves – and future students – a $25-per-semester fee for part of the stadium work for up to 25 years.
“I think we’re past due for an upgrade,” said Firas Basha, a zoology major from Vancouver, Wash. “In terms of the quality of our stadium, we’re at the bottom of the Pac-10 (conference).”
But others say students shouldn’t have to foot the bill and that administrators should seek the money first from private donors, ticket buyers and other sources.
In the past 10 years, student fees covering everything from health services to recreation activities at WSU have increased 137 percent. That’s much faster than tuition – which dwarfs the rate of inflation.
“I know a lot of people who have to work almost a full-time job because they have to pay their way through school,” said Amanda Haggland, a 19-year-old WSU student from Seattle.
The fee would raise about $10 million for WSU to begin renovation work at Martin Stadium, including improving the Stadium Way view and facilities such as restrooms and concessions. Overall, WSU plans to spend $74 million in four phases, adding premium seating like skyboxes and improving the entrances, said Jim Sterk, WSU athletic director.
Sterk has been a big promoter of the fee, speaking to student groups and urging support. He said WSU devotes more than a third of its stadium seating to students, far more than other schools in the region, and it’s fair to ask them to help pay for the work.
“No other Pac-10 school – or probably any school in the country – dedicates that much to student seating,” Sterk said.
WSU isn’t the only school going to the student bank.
University of Idaho students are paying about $236 a year for construction and operation of a $16 million rec center, which has what the school calls the largest indoor climbing center on any campus in the country.
Though UI breaks down spending differently from Washington schools, the fees paid by students for facilities and activities have risen 73 percent since the 1996-97 school year.
Eastern Washington University is getting ready to build a $22 million recreation center, and students will pay up to $55 per quarter to help finance it – $165 for a traditional academic year.
It’s EWU’s only current student-funded construction, however, and fees at EWU have grown much more slowly than at other regional institutions. A resident undergraduate at EWU now pays $672 a year in activity and mandatory fees, up about 20 percent in the last five years.
“That’s been a conscious effort on our part to try to hold those costs down,” said Rick Romero, vice president for business services at EWU. “We feel that does give us a competitive advantage.”
The EWU project has generated some controversy because of the inclusion of an ice rink, which some students say will be too costly. One reason administrators cite for including the rink is that it will be unusual among universities and provide EWU a recruiting perk.
WSU’s student fees, which pay for everything from new buildings to health services to student recreation, have increased 137 percent since the 1997-98 school year. During the same time, tuition has risen 82 percent.
And the fees are going up. In fall 2008, students will begin paying another $240 a year for renovation of Compton Union Building; students voted last year to assess the fee to future students. If students approve the football stadium proposal, today’s annual fees of roughly $933 will increase to at least $1,223 by the time the CUB fee kicks in, though an individual’s total can vary widely depending on charges for particular courses or activities.
One such voluntary fee is the $100 charge for season passes to home sporting events. Supporters of the new stadium say that’s a great deal and that it’s fair to pay more for something so many students use.
“We’re allotted about a third of the stadium, and we’re only being asked to pick up about a fifth of the bill,” said Zach Wurtz, who was Butch, the Cougar mascot, for four years and is running for student body president.
Critics note that season tickets to WSU home football games are cheaper than elsewhere and say the university should charge those fans more. A basic season ticket at WSU is $230, about $115 less than prices at the University of Washington, though fans can pay much more for reserved seating.
Writing in the Daily Evergreen, student James Reavis said the university’s fee process is in danger of becoming “a special interest treasure chest.”
Others say WSU should focus on the football team – which went 4-7 last season – more than where it plays.
“Right now, I’m leaning more toward ‘no’ because the bottom line is we have trouble filling the stadium as it is,” said Josh Lewis, a 21-year-old construction management major from Spokane.