Curious Cornhuskers

As part of our Curious Cornhuskers initiative, Will Jackson, a senior psychology major, asked The Daily Nebraskan, “Why isn’t UNL refunding half of the programming/facilities fee when facilities have been shut down and programs cancelled?”

Student fees will not be refunded for the rest of the semester because a majority of University Program and Facilities Fees fund staff salaries, utilities, maintenance and outstanding debt payments, according to a statement from the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska and the Graduate Student Assembly.

“If the university were to move forward with refunds, staff salaries in particular would be impacted,” according to the statement. “In other words, student workers and staff would most likely lose income and, potentially, their jobs.”

Jackson said he was unaware that student fees pay salaries and wages and sees the justification to not provide the refund. However, he said it still seems unfair as student fees allow students to use services that they no longer have access to.

“I still feel like I do want those people to get paid, so I’m not upset about it,” he said. “But it’s just like, students pay those fees so they can use those services, so it’s just kind of like — I don’t know, they’re paying for nothing basically.”

Emily Johnson, 2019-20 ASUN president, said a conversation about whether to offer a prorated refund began when the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced it would close Campus Recreation and the Nebraska Unions in response to COVID-19.

Johnson said many students reached out to ASUN and GSA about a refund, so she and GSA President Shawn Ratcliff met with campus leaders in Student Affairs and Central Administration to discuss the idea.

Students enrolled in seven or more credit hours pay $624 in student fees each semester, according to the Student Affairs website. According to UNL spokesperson Leslie Reed, about 85% of non-Debt on Facilities UPFF funds go toward salaries or hourly wages, which includes many graduate students.

“GSA president Ratcliff and myself agreed that the priority should be making sure that all those people continue to be supported for the rest of the semester,” Johnson said. “Especially because a prorated refund per student would not be very significant for the rest of the semester.”

Johnson said her hope is that if there are excess funds due to the decreased use of services, fee users may put the money away into a reserve fund, even though the remaining balance of funds might not be large.

“When you combine wages and salaries and then, just like, general utilities and maintenance costs, it’s probably only like 5% of any budget that’s discretionary funding for projects and programming like that,” she said. “But my hope would be that some of that can go into a reserve to help offset student fees in the future.”

ASUN and GSA said in their statement that the decision to not offer a refund was not made lightly, and it aligns with Chancellor Ronnie Green and President Ted Carter’s commitment to helping university employees.

This article was modified at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, April 10, to correct the percentage of UPFF fees that go toward salaries or hourly wages and clarify that salaries and wages are 85% of non-facilities UPFF funds, not 85% of total UPFF funds.