Yearly refund requests hold steady

May 16, 2011, 2:04 a.m.

Compared to last spring, this quarter’s special fees refund requests have remained consistent. The total dollar amount requested, however, has dropped by half from spring quarter 2010, according to data provided by Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE).

In the first two weeks of every quarter, students have the option to request a refund of special fees paid to volunteer student organizations (VSO) through their University bills; The Daily is one group that receives special fees. Requests are logged through a Stanford-hosted page, where students can pick and choose those groups from which they wish to receive a refund. Alternatively, they can opt out completely from paying special fees, which total $111 per quarter in the current academic year.

In this spring’s two-week refund period, 957 undergraduates requested refunds, and 356 of these were full refund requests. The total amount refunded from all groups was $51,957.67, with the average refund asking for $54.29.

Yearly refund requests hold steady
(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

These numbers are similar to the refund rate in spring quarter 2010, which saw 959 requests and 322 full refunds. However, a much higher amount was refunded then — $99,776 was returned to students, with the average refund totaling $104.

These statistics are still “frighteningly high,” according to Senate Appropriations Chair Brianna Pang ’13, who is also a current Daily staff member.

Past years have shown an upward trend in refund requests over the course of the academic year. According to Pang, this trend is due to a rising awareness of the refunds process.

Indeed, fall quarter 2010’s statistics are much lower, with 559 refund requests and 429 full refunds. In the fall, $56,245 was requested back, making the average refund request $100.

The Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for running the special fees process, is working on figuring out why students are requesting special fees refunds from student groups and why certain groups are targeted over others.

“That’s the flaw in the refund system that should be fixed,” said Pang. “We have no data why some groups are getting more money refunded than others.”

Pang posited three reasons why students might request refunds from a group: the fees are a financial burden, students are morally and ethically opposed to the group or students do not see themselves using the group’s services.

“I don’t think that most students here want to hurt a group’s functionality,” said Senate Chair Rafael Vazquez ’12.

Rather, he continued, students are attracted by “free money.” According to Pang, when students on financial aid request refunds, the money actually returns to their pockets instead of the Financial Aid Office.

Another problem is that students may still take advantage of a group’s services after refunding that group; under a previous policy, groups only received a list of the SUID numbers of students who decline to pay their fees.

In order to combat this trend, Pang, Vazquez and ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12 are currently focused on passing a bill through the Senate to reform the special fees refund process.

“This is something that has been pushed by the VSO leaders, basically, for the past three years,” Vazquez said.

The bill would require students to provide a rationale for requesting refunds. It would also make available their names and SUID numbers to the president and financial officer of the specific groups from which they demand refunds.

“It’s then up to the president and financial officer to figure out whether or not they want to bar the individual from their services,” Pang said.

“It gives the group more ownership to give their services to the people who pay for the services,” Vazquez added.

Pang and Vazquez have also attempted to address concerns about privacy by including a consequences clause in the bill. If the president or financial officer publicly releases the names of the students who requested refunds, then those students have a right to file a case against them with the appropriate judicial body.

Pang added that releasing the list of students who refunded would not solve all of the problems with enforcement.

In order to help alleviate some of those issues, Vazquez is in support of an initiative to require students to appear in person to the ASSU offices in Old Union to request special fees refunds.

The reform bill will be up for debate this Tuesday and will be put to a vote next Tuesday.

Vazquez and Pang shared high hopes for the bill but expressed doubts that they would ever see a zero refund rate.

“We’re in a recession,” Vazquez said, “Whatever money people can get, they will [try to] get.”

Login or create an account