More for your money?

How much, if anything, would students be willing to pay for cool new equipment, educational field trips or even a series of guest lecturers? Chico State University will find out if three departments go ahead with an idea to add an “excellence fee” to students’ tuition bills.

The idea of adding a campus-based fee of $100 a semester is being discussed among administrators, faculty members and students in three colleges: agriculture; business; and engineering, computer science and technology. Only the students in those majors would vote whether to approve a fee on their department.

Ken Derucher, dean of the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology, said the money generated ($360,000 a year in his college alone) would enhance the programs, largely with equipment that historically has not been paid for by the state. In his college, that could mean a wind tunnel for mechanical engineering, for example, or a new graphics lab for computer science.

For the College of Agriculture’s 375 students, such a fee could pay for lab and field equipment, extended field trips or additional jobs at the University Farm, said Dean Charles Crabb.

Excellence fees, which are also known as “deans’ fees,” have been instituted at Louisiana State University, Texas A & M and, closer to home, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. But unlike Cal Poly’s $600 fee, Chico State’s team decided $200 is the way to go. “It’s got to be a meaningful fee that we don’t place too low,” Derucher said, but at the same time, “we’ve got to be realistic.”

Derucher, who is leading a “deans’ team” that has been meeting with student groups about the idea and what the money should cover, said the deans will not press the matter if the students show resistance. “They’re really the ones that need to drive this,” Crabb said. “This is about a partnership with the students.”

Monica Chesini, the Associated Students director of university affairs, said she’s excited by the idea of beefing up the colleges, but she’s urging students to be cautious in light of budget cuts handed down this year even as the state Legislature hints at pushing its own fee increase on the California State Universities.

A.S. President Jimmy Reed, an agriculture major, agreed. “There’s a lot of things we could use in ag,” he said. “We just want to keep up the pace for technology.”

The fee, if passed, would be set up as a contract with the university, protecting it from being raided locally or by the state to supplement the general fund.

“The original intent was to go university-wide,” Crabb mentioned, but the decision was made to start with the three heavily career-oriented colleges as a pilot program.

As for a timeline for a student vote, “We were hoping for December but it looks like it may be March,” Derucher said.

He added that the colleges are already considered quite competitive. "We don’t feel like we’re falling behind," he said. "[But] I don’t want to lose any ground, and I’d certainly like to move farther ahead."