Students protest alleged misuse of fees
Complaints from Hawaii Community College students alleging misuse of student fees spurred state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim to request a review by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.
For years, HCC and University of Hawaii at Hilo students had shared facilities and recreation services. Students on both campuses paid fees to cover those services, with HCC students paying $67 a semester in fees for access, including a $19 news publication fee, an $18 student activity fee, an $18 student government fee, a $7 Campus Center fee and a $5 recreation fee.
In January 2013, the agreement between the campuses’ student organizations was dissolved, according to Jason Cifra, HCC’s vice chancellor for student affairs.
“We saw that we were sending a lot of money to UH-Hilo, but we didn’t know how much usage our students were getting out of it,” he said.
Cifra said he and student leaders agreed to end the sharing agreement in order to conserve the fees HCC students continue to pay to be applied to providing HCC campus-specific programs and services. However, that left students without access to certain services, or in some cases without access unless they paid additional “per-use” fees.
Areas such as the student radio station, recreation facilities, UH’s campus center or a subscription to the Ke Kalahea student news magazine have all been affected.
From fiscal year 2013 through March 31, 2014, HCC billed students for more than $500,000 in fees that were not all spent to provide student services, and that doesn’t sit right with several former members of the school’s student government.
“We are demanding an audit of the student fee accounts,” said David Canning, former student activities treasurer who was removed from his position last year.
Canning, as well as the treasurer who replaced him, Marieta Carrino, and former council President Eric Aranug, say they were all voted out of office in retaliation for asking questions and stepping outside the chain of command when they submitted requests for documents to the school’s chancellor and other administrators after not receiving responses to previous requests to the student affairs office.
“We want the school to be accountable to the students,” Carrino said. “This has been going on for too long, and it’s got to stop. This is corruption.”
Cifra told Stephens Media Hawaii he was not aware of the students’ concerns until this March. He argues students still have access to UH-Hilo facilities, although HCC students might pay higher per-use fees for some services.
Ultimately, he added, the move away from UH-Hilo is an effort to help HCC students get more campus services for their money, not less, stressing it was a decision voted on by the entire student council.
He said that while during the last year and a half much of the student fees paid by students have not been spent, he expects by the end of the year to spend all that was collected through the academic year, as well as “dipping into the reserves.”
The complaints piqued the interest of the state Senate president, who sent a letter last week to University of Hawaii Board of Regents Chairman John C. Holzman concerning the matter. In her letter, she refers to formerly bringing up similar concerns about UH’s West Oahu campus, which ultimately led to students being refunded money for nonexistent services for which they were charged.
“Our students deserve better than to be charged fees that end up sitting idly in an account going unspent,” she wrote. “As the policy makers, I request that the Board of Regents review the basis in which these fees are charged and ensure that our students are getting what they pay for.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.