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SSU students approve fee hike to build student center


Correction: April 18, 2011

A story on April 14, 2011, about Sonoma State University said it was the first time students voted online. It was the first time students voted for a referendum online, but they previously voted for candidates online.

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Sonoma State University will build a $65 million student center after students agreed to raise fees by $150 a semester.

Supporters say the time is right to build a centralized place for students to meet, study and attend events, and a venue for more student jobs.

But approval of the 100,000-square-foot student center has some students upset that they'll be paying more to attend college, despite cuts to classes and services and tough economic times.

The fee, which will be assessed on students for the next 30 years beginning in the fall of 2012, was approved on a 59 to 41 percent vote by students. About 37 percent of students voted.

"We had the highest amount of voter turnout that we ever had," said Bridgette Dussan, president of the Associated Students Inc., the student government group that promoted the new fee. "There are endless benefits to the students that want this building."

Currently, student activities are spread out and often held in rooms that can only hold up to 300 people, she said.

"I thought it was a great building to have on campus, and it's something that's necessary," said Ricardo Rivas-Avalos, a junior. "We do need a place to go in-between classes."

Additional funding will come from Associated Students, the student union, the housing department, and Sonoma State Enterprises. The project also calls for state university bonds to be issued, and the debt service for those bonds will be paid by those groups and the student fees.

But some students said the additional fee would hit low-income students hard, and would reduce minority enrollment in the school.

"I'm furious that it passed," said Molly Ashe, a senior studying sociology. "This is the least diverse campus in the CSU system ... and fewer people of color will be able to afford to go here."

Ashe said many students spend five years at the college, and adding an additional $1,500 to their bill would be too much. "For someone from a lower socio-economic status that's a lot of money," she said.

"We have been increased and increased and increased," said student William Orr, 54. "There is a homeless population here, and they have to make the choice between housing and tuition."

Dussan said she could relate to those concerns, because she is paying for college on her own, and is the first in her family to attend college.

She said that if she was around when the fees are assessed she would make adjustments to pay the higher cost.

"I would just work a few more hours," Dussan said. "It's $9.40 a week. That's eating out once a week, or two Starbucks, or a cheap shirt on sale. If you really think about it the adjustment is not that severe."

Ashlee DeMatteo, a sophomore, will be around when the fee is assessed in the fall of 2012. She voted for the measure, and said it would be better in the long run for the school.

"I just feel like a lot of students here pay a lot of money off-campus for food," DeMatteo said. "I think the money they spend off-campus would balance out the extra fee."

Others complained that there was too little information disseminated against the proposal, and the fee referendum was buried in the online voting system. Students had to vote on a dozen student government candidates, clicking through several pages online before reaching the fee vote.

"I feel like it was made so people wouldn't vote for it, would get discouraged and not vote," said Ariana Aparicio, a senior. "Why not put it as a separate ballot?"

Ashe said she had problems getting the online voting system to work on her computer.

Susan Kashack, spokeswoman for SSU, said it was the first time the university held online elections, and she hoped that anyone who had trouble was helped by the election commissioner.

"There were signs all over campus that said &‘Vote Yes,' and I didn't see any signs that supported the opposition," said Gina McIntyre, a teaching assistant in the English department. "I just don't feel like it was a democratic win."