What's with the hidden student fees?

Free rides on the bus, discounts on selected movie and theme park tickets, and free admission to SMC athletic events are just some of the benefits used to attract students to become members of the Associated Students of Santa Monica College. Advertising on campus directs students to join for a flat fee of $19.50. But therein lies the rub: That Andrew Jackson in your pocket won’t exactly come close to covering the $32.50 actually required for the membership, thanks to an additional $13 “student ID card fee.”

According to the college catalog, the initial fee is used by the AS to fund campus clubs through the Inter Club Council and other programs aimed at promoting student-life activities. The additional fee is necessary to “activate” the electronic strip on the card in order to gain access to campus resources.

Jesse Ramirez, Director of Publicity for the AS, says information from the Auxiliary Services department provided a breakdown of the additional $13 fee. “$3 goes to the ID card, $5 goes into technology, and $5 goes into transportation,” he says. The Auxiliary Services department would not independently confirm these numbers, nor offer any additional information regarding the fee.

While both fees are optional, students can’t pay for one without having to pay for the other. “A student cannot opt out of ID card fees if they want to keep AS benefits,” says Chandra Dhruv, Cash Receipts Coordinator in the Bursar’s Office. “All fees are according to the California Education Code, which is then approved and distributed by the SMC School Board.”

Students with existing Student ID cards who want to purchase an A.S. membership must also pay this fee, though they already have the card.

“You have to pay the Student ID card fee because it is for swiping. You’re paying to swipe the card, to activate it, to be able to ride on the bus,” says Ramirez.

Ramirez, who is concerned that signs that advertise the membership for $19.50 are misleading students because they omit the additional $13 fee. During a recent AS meeting, Ramirez brought this up as a matter of concern to the board.

Ramirez says that after he brought the issue to the board’s attention, a “faculty member” said he “should just drop it.”

“[He] told me that I should just keep my mouth shut, because if I bring this up, a lot of people are going to pay attention,” said Ramirez. He adds that the faculty member (Ramirez declined to provide The Corsair with his name) was worried that the Associated Student’s ability to provide campus resources for students would be threatened if the additional fee were to be exposed to public scrutiny.

In addition to his concerns, Ramirez is frustrated with the apparent lack of communication between all parties. “The goal here would be to get the administrators to get the Bursars office to get in line with what the AS is marketing,” he says.

Dhruv, however, thinks the combined AS and Student ID should increase. “The school is charging less then they should for the amount of benefits,” he says. “The unlimited Big Blue Bus pass per person is normally $80 a month. The fees are very reasonable.”

“For me, at the end of the day, I would like to have my own option here, says Ramirez, adding that the way the fee is advertised is unclear. “[I want to] have that option to do as I feel is best for me,” says Ramirez.