Education

With high turnout, Wichita State students narrowly vote down raising their own fees

An anonymous donor has pledged $5 million toward building Wayne and Kay Woolsey Hall, the proposed new home of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University.
An anonymous donor has pledged $5 million toward building Wayne and Kay Woolsey Hall, the proposed new home of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University. Wichita State University

With their highest voter turnout ever, students at Wichita State University narrowly rejected a plan to raise their own fees. But some students will likely still have to pay more for school.

The university announced Wednesday that the Shock the Future referendum to fund academic facilities improvements was defeated by 107 votes.

“The next step will be to seek alternative student funding for the new business school building, which already is about 60 percent funded through donor gifts,” the university said in a statement.

Acting President Richard Muma told The Eagle that business student fees may be adjusted to help pay for a bond for a new business building. But increasing business student fees is not the only option to increase revenues from students.

With students rejecting the $38.5 million referendum, there are no plans for an across-the-board fee for all students at this point, he said. The plan was for $20 million to go to a new W. Frank Barton School of Business on its Innovation Campus while the remainder went to other campus upgrades.

The university has already raised about $30 million in donations for the estimated $50 million business building, Woolsey Hall. Muma said school fundraisers have hit the maximum they expected to be able to raise from current donors, but additional gifts may lower the amount needed from student revenues.

The other projects planned in the referendum will now be put on hold.

Muma said that engaging with students ahead of the referendum was a valuable experience for him and that he is pleased by the number of students who educated themselves on a proposal and decided to vote.

“I am extremely pleased that we had that level of participation,” Muma said. “We’ve never had that many students vote in any kind of vote or survey about an issue on campus.”

The final tally was 1,681 for and 1,788 against, or 48.5 percent to 51.5 percent. The 3,469 students who voted were 28.4 percent of students who pay student fees and are seeking a degree.

That was more than double the voter turnout of 12.3 percent of students who voted in the 2018 Student Government Association election.

The higher voter turnout combined with the close results indicated a significant number of students on both sides felt strongly about the issue, Muma said. The highest turnout was among business, fine arts and health students.

“They had a lot to gain from if this referendum were to pass,” he said.

The proposal had called for doubling the campus infrastructure fee for all students — from $6 to $12 per credit hour — for 20 years. It came after WSU raised fees $95 per semester to build a new YMCA on campus.

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