WCU trustees promise sunset for athletic fee increase
A requested athletic fee increase at Western Carolina University met approval from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors at its Feb. 24 meeting, but this month WCU trustees passed a resolution pledging that increase would stick around only as long as the debt for the projects it seeks to support.
“I’m really glad we have this so I can take it back to the students,” Student Government Association President Rebecca Hart, who is also a member of the WCU Board of Trustees, said during a March 3 Finance and Audit Committee meeting . “Because while it is a UNC System policy that it is rolled back, it’s difficult to explain that policy to students. So having a piece of paper I can bring back to them of this is what they said, they put it in writing, it is a commitment to you all, I’m really grateful to be able to take that back to them.”
Hart had requested the resolution as a condition of the board’s approval of the athletic fee increase Dec. 3. For the first time in memory, the proposed athletic fee increase earned support from all six student representatives on the WCU Tuition and Fees Committee, but their support was the result of leadership’s promise that the fee increase would disappear once the $30 million in athletic upgrades it was intended to finance had been paid. Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Mike Byers told Hart a fee sunset was baked into the existing policy, because once the debt was issued the increase would move from the athletics fee line time to the debt service line item. The university would be required to reduce the debt service fee when the debt term ended. However, Hart wanted an outright statement of that pledge to bring back to the student body.
Trustee Casey Cooper, who chairs the Finance and Audit Committee, thanked Hart for her “courageous advocacy” in the matter.
“This sends the message to them (the students) that we heard them,” he said.
The $86 increase will bring the total annual fee to $868 for the 2022-2023 academic year. In two years, the university will seek an additional hike of $59. That money, combined with an additional $104 that the university wants to keep collecting after the debt it currently services is retired, will comprise the $249 per student that WCU needs to fund $30 million in athletics upgrades . Philanthropy is expected to raise an additional $30 million, bringing the total upgrade fund to $60 million.
University leaders praised the Board of Governors’ approval of the fee, with Chancellor Kelli R. Brown telling trustees during their March 4 meeting that she was “thrilled” it had passed.
“Some of our athletic facilities have served well beyond their life expectancy and are in desperate need of renovation, repair or replacement,” Alex Gary, WCU’s director of athletics, said in a statement following the Board of Governors meeting. “Coupled with a significant fundraising campaign, the vote today will go a long way in helping us address much needed renovations.”