A student fee could be the answer that the University Studies Graduate Mentor program needs to keep its doors open next year. University administrators have been discussing a possible fee, among other options, that could be used to save the graduate mentor student stipends that were cut for the 2007-08 fiscal year.
A student fee could be the answer that the University Studies Graduate Mentor program needs to keep its doors open next year.
University administrators have been discussing a possible fee, among other options, that could be used to save the graduate mentor student stipends that were cut for the 2007-08 fiscal year. The stipends, which totaled $224,000 of the University Studies budget, were cut because University Studies has been in a perpetual $800,000 to $1 million budget deficit over the last few years.
The fee would be charged to students who enroll in a sophomore inquiry class (the graduate mentors are used in all University Studies Sophomore Inquiry classes). The fee would be like a lab fee in a science class, used to pay for the services the graduate mentors provide the students.
The cost of the fee, and whether or not the fee will actually be implemented, is still uncertain. Sukhwant Jhaj, the director of University Studies, said that he, students, and other administrators need to have additional in-depth conversations about how, and if, the mentor program might be saved.
”[The fee] is not there yet as a solution," Jhaj said. “We have a real budget problem that is not artificial. We see the grad mentor program as an important part of the University Studies program."
Four students met with Shawn Smallman, vice provost for instruction and dean of undergraduate studies, Monday to discuss their concern about cutting the graduate mentor program and ask about possible alternative solutions. Smallman said that he thinks a fee should either cover the entire cost of the program or none of it at all.
Larissa Hutchinson, a graduate mentor and one of the four students who attended the meeting, said one possibility that had been discussed with her was to charge students a fee that would only cut the number of graduate mentors ?” from 37 to 25. Smallman said a small change in the program like that would harm University Studies more than cutting the entire graduate mentor program.
”It’s all or nothing," he said. “If we’re going to look at a fee, it should cover the entire cost of the program."
If it did not charge a fee, the university might add summer University Studies classes and might change a high school development program – now funded by University Studies – to be self supportive so that the graduate mentor program could continue. But the students who attended Monday’s meeting with Smallman thought the fee would be the most realistic option.
Student Body President Courtney Morse said she would support a fee to keep the graduate mentor program active, believing the program to be important to PSU students. She said that a majority of students enrolled in University Studies programs are transfer students, and she believes that transfer students need the program to find their place at PSU.
Monique Peterson, the Associate Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) communications director and one of the students at Monday’s meeting, said that she found the mentor program valuable to her experience at Portland State after she transferred to the university.
“I think the mentor program is valuable enough that a fee would be appropriate," she said.
Without the graduate mentors, the Sophomore Inquiry classes will now take a new form. Classes will be instructor-based only, lasting for a two-hour block like other PSU classes. Previously, the Sophomore Inquiry classes had an hour-and-15-minute block with a University Studies faculty member and a one-hour block with the graduate assistant mentor.
Morse said that she plans on contacting Portland State President Daniel Bernstine and Provost Roy Koch to talk about other options to keep the graduate mentor program that might be available. Morse began examining the cut graduate mentor program after some students had brought her questions about why the program was cut. She said she wants to get more student feedback on whether students want the program or not, but has no current plans about how student government will obtain more student feedback.
Smallman is keeping the $230,000 in tuition remissions that University Studies used for the graduate mentors available to use in other parts of the program.
Jhaj said that if a student fee, or any of the other money-saving options for the Sophomore Inquiries are not implemented, and the graduate mentor program is cut, he thinks that the University Studies program is likely to keep four or five graduate students to support the program. Jhaj said that all of the possible solutions to keeping the graduate mentor program are still up in the air, and that nothing definite, including the fee, has yet been decided.
Smallman had just been appointed to his vice provost position when he decided to cut the graduate mentor program in mid-October. Smallman knew that the budget for the graduate mentor program would be available for this year ?” its expenses guaranteed by the university ?” but knew that he would have to make up for the University Studies program’s perpetual deficit by cutting some part of the program.
Both Smallman and Jhaj chose to notify students and graduate mentors this fall to decide to cut the program, rather than wait until budget time in the spring after all the graduate mentors had prepared to take their jobs in University Studies.
”It’s not a question of not having the will to do it," Smallman said of keeping the program, “it’s a question of not having the resources to do it."
The mentor program was cut after the university could no longer support the perpetual University Studies deficit and told Smallman to find the resources to make up the $800,000 to $1 million debt.