Following the vote in favor of increasing Concordia Student Services fee levy, a new oversight body will be established to manage the funds.
In the recent Concordia Student Union (CSU) general elections, students voted 54.9 per cent in favor of an increase to the Concordia Student Services (CSS) fee levy. This is the first time Concordia Student Services have requested a fee levy increase since 2009. The $0.85 per credit increase brings the total fee levy from $10.26 per credit to $11.11 per credit, an overall 8.3 per cent increase. The vote was decided on a 9.1 per cent student voter turnout.
Following the fee levy increase, the CSU and Concordia Student Services are set to create a mandating and oversight body to create greater transparency over the use of student funds.
A number of different units make up CSS, including the Student Success Centre, Campus Wellness and Support Services (which include counseling and psychological services) and the Dean of Students Office. In their application for an increased fee levy, CSS cited a net decrease in enrolment at Concordia due to the decline in 18-24 year olds living in Quebec. Currently, CSS has a surplus budget due to higher levels of enrolment previously. Without the fee levy, they expect to operate with a $2,316,991 deficit by the 2024-2025 academic year.
CSS helps students access many services at no direct cost, including but not limited to doctors, counseling, career advice and tutoring. In the 2021-2022 academic year, counseling and psychological services provided 9,654 student appointments, including triage and counseling. A deficit would see CSS needing to cut services.
“There are so many services offered in student services. It’s such a wide variety and I think each one is really important in its own way,” said Catherine Starr-Prenovost, a fifth-year psychology student at Concordia who currently works as a welcome crew mentor with the Student Success Centre, and as a homeroom facilitator as part of the Dean of Students Office.
“I can’t think of any student service that doesn’t have a huge impact on students’ lives.”
While student services are impactful, the nature of how their funding is allocated can be quite vague.
”Students don’t have a way where they can govern this money, $9 million every year from their fees. They don’t have a way of knowing how it gets allocated. They can’t oversee it as there isn’t even a budget publicly available on their website,” said Fawaz Halloum, the CSU’s general coordinator.
The total revenue for CSS this year was $10,672,927 with student fees fronting 90 per cent of their funding, not including the surplus. Other student-run fee levy groups are required to hold Annual General Meetings, where board members can discuss budgets. They keep auditor’s reports and other financials ready at any time. This is not currently the case for Concordia Student Services.
“There’s a trend that students do not want to keep paying into university services where they have absolutely no control over their money or to oversee or hold them accountable,” said Halloum.
Following CSS’ initial application for funding, Halloum suggested that an oversight body be created.
“I told them that students would want to see a board, a council of sorts, where students will sit along with the service directors. They will fight the budgets, make decisions and bring in student concerns directly and have a bit of a forum between the shareholders and the executives, which is long overdue,” said Halloum.
Halloum believes that with more oversight, the quality of work done by CSS could be improved.
“If you just start breaking it down one by one, you can find a slew of things that you can improve on pre-existing services, maybe even add certain facilities or services,” he said.
In most units of student services, a majority of the budget is directed towards salaries and benefits. According to their 2021-22 yearly report, CSS employs 118 professional employees across their units, with 322 students employees. During that year, student jobs accounted for $1,253,000 of the annual operating and non-operating budgets. This represents 10.44 per cent of CSS’ total revenue in that year, despite the fact that student employees make up 73.18 per cent of the CSS’ total workforce.
According to Laura Mitchell, Concordia’s executive director of student experience, the new funding from students won’t necessarily mean new services. “It’s to keep everything going that we have at present,” she said. “So this wouldn’t be money that would bolster one particular area. It would be spread across everything that we currently do.”
According to their application, CSS predicts a five per cent increase in costs to maintain their services every year. The extra money will help combat this increase and maintain salaries for professional and student employees amid rising cost of living expenses.
”It’s all equally important, like our student jobs are really important to us,” said Mitchell. “We love working with students and we love supporting them. So obviously, we would love to be able to give a fair and generous salary to our student employees as much as we possibly can,” she added.
Student employees like Starr-Prenovost have spoken highly of their experience with CSS. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she said. “I feel like I’m treated really well and very fairly.”
A new oversight body has the potential to improve transparency to students, so they can better understand how their funds are being allocated.
“Both sides were very enthusiastic about this idea,” Mitchell said.
Currently, CSS does have a committee called Concordia Council on Student Life that is a parity committee made up of students and staff. Mitchell says the new advisory body could resemble it.
“We need to set up those consistent meetings and have these discussions and I think that will be great. I think it’d be really illuminating for both sides. To learn more about each other, because obviously these collaborations are really important for us too.”
Now that the fee levy increase has been approved, a memorandum of understanding will be presented to the CSU’s council in one year to create a body staffed and operating in the following academic year.
“We don’t want to go in alone, we want to be in partnership as much as possible,” said Mitchell.
Despite the risk of deficit and increasing costs, students are the only ones currently being asked to increase their contributions to student services. The university’s contribution to CSS makes up just 4.11 per cent, which would diminish with an increased fee levy. It’s not as though the university does not have money to support these services. According to Concordia’s annual financial reports, a number of executives saw salary increases this year with President Graham Carr receiving a 9.56 per cent pay raise.
But Mitchell said they are having discussions with the university to see what that contribution looks like. “I think that’s another very important component,” she said.
Starr-Prenovost also thinks it’s important for everyone, including the university, to contribute to maintaining these services and that the efforts of people like Mitchell see results.
“I do hope to see that it comes to an increase in funding from [the university] as well. Anybody that could offer funding to the Student Success Center in student services, I think it would be a great investment,” she said.
“I really do think that the services are so important. Essentially, I think that it should be a priority for everybody to increase funding for student services in general.”