MSA candidates tackle student affordability
All slates support the library fee but not without some reservations.
Nov. 04, 2015
From dining to living expenses to textbooks, there are a lot more expenses that students face other than tuition. Each Missouri Students Association presidential slate has devised a plan to make MU a place where all students can go, no matter their financial situation.
In their platform Back To Basics, Jordan McFarland and Jonathan Segers said they hope to address student affordability by increasing registered voters, hosting monthly informational forums and creating videos about available resources.
They said they believe lack of voter participation in all forms of elections is the greatest problem on campus concerning student affordability. If more students voted, the greater the influence the students will have, McFarland said.
McFarland said only 13 percent of the student body votes, meaning they only have 13 percent influence on the campus as a whole. Their goal for their year of office is to increase student participation in the polls to about 40 percent.
“We really have to work on increasing political participation with (Tigers Advancing Political Participation),” McFarland said. “I hate to say I’ll leave it for the next guy, but if we can do that in a year, that would be incredibly ambitious.”
They said they would also like to see more students registered as Boone County voters and provide absentee ballots for those who choose not to.
The candidates also said they would like to see more traditional-style rooms in residence halls rather than suite-style rooms, which would provide more affordable housing options for students.
The slate never addresses affordability regarding Campus Dining Services directly, but they do address food insecurity with their program Swipe Me In. This would be a social media campaign that pairs students with extra meal swipes with students who don’t have enough food in an attempt to make sure all students are fed.
The program would also include an educational campaign via social media about food insecurity and increased exposure for Tiger Pantry.
McFarland and Segers said they plan to produce 30-second videos showcasing all the residential life resources available on campus. The videos would be made by the Department of Student Communications in conjunction with MUTV and other auxiliary resources on campus.
“There are a lot of tools, but a lot of people don’t know that they exist unless they go talk to someone,” Segers said.
In addition to producing videos, McFarland and Segers said they would like to hold monthly forums in which students answer questions about on- and off-campus housing.
Another major student expense is the proposed library fee, which they both support.
“I think the library fee will end up working for the students at the end of the day, even though it might be a bitter pill to swallow at the beginning,” McFarland said.
If the library fee is voted down in the upcoming election, the candidates said they hope it will appear again in the future. They said they will take the opportunity to educate students on the benefits of voting yes.
At the Oct. 26 debate, McFarland said he would travel to Jefferson City himself to fight for a better education. McFarland said he will work with the MU campus before he does anything at the city or state level.
“We are there to facilitate what they’re doing, not issue our own directives,” McFarland said. “Nowhere in the job description is heavy lobbyist. That’s not what we’re here to do.”
Missouri Students Association presidential candidate Haden Gomez said he and running mate Chris Hanner made student affordability “one of the biggest things on (their) platform” because finances are a major reason students drop out of college.
Gomez and Hanner have both served on the MSA’s Budget Committee and the MU Budget Office’s Budget Allocation Advisory Committee, and Hanner was the chairman of the MSA Budget Committee last year. One of the major ways the two plan to help students is to increase the transparency of what fees students will have to pay.
“I hear every single day in Speakers Circle that students don’t know what fees are associated with what class,” Gomez said.
Gomez said they want to partner with MyZou and the Office for Financial Success so students will see what fees are associated with classes they’re considering registering for before they enroll.
“That way, there would not be any surprises,” Gomez said. “They would not feel like they were being slighted. They would know every single penny and dime they would be paying for that class.”
They also want to improve Campus Dining Services’ swipe system. Their platform says they plan to work with CDS to try to enable the use of meal swipes at the three Mizzou Market locations and in the Student Center. Gomez said the reduction of the cost of swipes to $7 per meal was an encouraging step, but they still wanted to work to reduce that cost.
“It’s really just talking to (CDS) and making sure students are aware of (what they’re paying for), but also making sure they’re becoming increasingly transparent,” he said.
Their platform says they plan to work with Student Legal Services to “crack down on predatory leasing.” Gomez said this would involve educating students so they know what they’re getting into when they sign a lease with an off-campus rentor.
“There are too many luxury apartment complexes being built and not enough affordable options for students,” Hanner said in an email. “This ends up being bad not just for students, who are entering into predatory leases, according to former Student Legal Services lawyer Steve Concannon, but also for the economic health of the city of Columbia.”
Gomez and Hanner also hope to work with the Associated Students of the University of Missouri to advocate for student affordability at the state level. He said student lobbying could have a profound impact on politics and that it had in the past, citing the 2013 “Kill the Bill” rallies as an example.
“You can tell when there is a student voice in the capital, they do start listening,” Gomez said. “A lot of the time, (state politicians) get caught up in the politics of it and they don’t see many of their constituents, but whenever they have a student there asking for more funding, it becomes more realistic.”
Gomez and Hanner said they support the proposed library fee, but called it a “huge burden” on students and expressed disappointment with MU for not prioritizing library funding.
“We know that a library is a staple when it comes to education on a campus, so you would think a university would be more proactive in funding things like that,” Gomez said.
Gomez said if he and Hanner were voted into office and the fee passed, they would look into other ways to fund the library, such as private donations, a capital campaign or funding from the university.
“There has to be other ways,” he said. “Students are a last resort when it comes to funding.”
Through Mizzou Together, Syed Ejaz and Heather Parrie want to address student affordability by advocating for more affordable housing, creating a profit-share for textbook sales and challenging tuition changes.
“MSA has a little bit more power than the average student to fight these things and that is our responsibility,” Parrie said.
From speaking with other individuals at the SEC exchange, Ejaz has found that student affordability is not a problem unique to MU.
When working with City Council to promote affordable housing and ensuring that the student voice is heard, Ejaz said there are many roles that MSA would play.
One role is to work with developers and City Council to verify that the student housing in Columbia is conducive to proper student living and to ensure “abusive marketing practices” aren’t occurring, Ejaz said. Another role is educating students on how to make a good housing decision, which would be done by MSA and off campus student services.
Ejaz said rent is one of the largest costs students have to pay and student housing is “something MSA often overlooks.”
The candidates also would like to evaluate how to make Campus Dining prices more affordable, Parrie said.
“Campus dining is a monopoly here on campus,” Parrie said. “It is one of the only ways to get food here on this campus unless you are going downtown. They have the ability to set their prices and we have the ability to challenge those prices.”
The University of Alabama Student Government Association brokered a deal with Amazon which allowed a portion of their revenue from textbook sales to return to the university and their SGA.
Ejaz said that would be a model for MU to look into. As of right now, students purchase their textbooks from the Mizzou Store or from a different source. The revenue made from those sales does not come to MSA. It instead goes back to university administration.
According to Mizzou Store website, the money generated from textbook sales supports Stankowski Field, the Student Success Center, the Student Center and Memorial Union in the form of donations.
“We spend so much on textbooks and for it to be vague as to where that money is actually going from the Mizzou Store is not fair to the students when we could be doing something to maximize the benefits of buying textbooks on campus,” Parrie said.
Although they are generally in favor of the library fee, Ejaz said he would have rather seen the library fee broken into smaller parts, so it would have been easier for students to accept.
“On a fundamental basis, nobody wants to pay fees, but if the design of the fee is smart and it appears manageable, then the student body would definitely entertain it,” Ejaz said.
A lot of the negativity from the proposed fee comes from students questioning what the fee does for them, Parrie said. It is hard for students “to swallow” if they do not use research, software or the books in Ellis.
“I know the money we pay, we are not necessarily going to see it immediately affecting our education, especially for those of us who are later in our academic careers,” Parrie said.
When tuition changes, the student body is told there is no choice. It is a sign that MSA has not been doing a good job on student affordability, Ejaz said.
“Student affordability is one of the major roles that MSA should always be stepping into because it controls so many dynamics on campus, campus life and the composition of the student body,” Ejaz said. “The list just goes on and on.”