Saving through learning the rules

Savannah State University, a Historically Black College/University located minutes away from the city’s renowned historic district and Tybee Island Beach, is doing everything it can to make college more affordable for its students.

Savannah State University, a Historically Black College/University located minutes away from the city’s renowned historic district and Tybee Island Beach, is doing everything it can to make college more affordable for its students.

Founded in 1890, the university’s locale and its academic programs attract students from various demographic backgrounds. Almost 60 percent of our students are first-generation college students, and approximately 90 percent receive some form of financial aid.

While one of our goals is to provide programs that will be helpful in reducing student expenses (such as price matching in the bookstore, or efficiencies in dining services), we also want to help students understand their role in keeping down their college costs.

For the 10 years I have worked at Savannah State, my office has been located in the same hallway as most of our major services. I like this location, because I can tell the level of service that is being offered by the tone of the conversations in the hallway. One day about four years ago, I heard for the umpteenth time one of our students say: “Why does Savannah State always want to take my money? This isn’t fair!”

I could tell from the direction of the voice that the student was complaining about having to pay to have an ID card replaced. If the voice was in the other direction, it would have been a complaint about the cost of a parking citation or a boot on their car. It occurred to me that maybe we weren’t communicating adequately with our students about how their behavior impacted the cost of their college education.

Before long, I had created the flyer “How to Save Money at SSU!”, specifically to help those students and parents who need this additional guidance. In addition to the areas in Auxiliary Services where I had heard the most complaints (parking, ID Card, and dining), I also included information on registration and the student handbook, which covers residential fines (Housing at Savannah State reports to a different division but we work closely together).

The flyer is handed out at New Student Orientation and I refer to it when I give my presentation to the students and parents. It has also been used as a basis for discussion in some Freshman Year Experience classes. Although we have had mixed results in each of our areas, I have not heard as many loud voices in the hallway. In addition, we have a sense of satisfaction that we have done our due diligence by helping students understand their responsibilities before they even attend their first class.

Here is a history of the Auxiliary Services items included in our educational campaign.

Avoid Parking Fines. Parking Enforcement moved from Public Safety to Auxiliary Services in 2008. Prior to that time, all students and employees paid $10 for parking permits and not much more for parking fines. When parking moved to Auxiliary Services, it had to be self-supporting, according to the University System of Georgia regulations. There also were no parking restrictions in place – everyone parked where they wanted and students drove around campus all day to go to their classes, meals, and activities.

In instituting parking restrictions, we had three goals: to improve traffic flow; to fund parking lot and signage improvements through increased citations; and to change the culture of our students thinking that parking was a “free for all”.

As expected, goal one was met right away. Goals two and three were somewhat in conflict, since once we changed the parking culture by charging for the additional violations, our revenue actually started to decrease. However, by analyzing the citation data to find out the most frequent violations, we were able to raise the fines associated with just those violations to keep our revenue relatively steady as the actual count went down.

Don’t Lose Your ID Card. Students and employees at Savannah State are given one free ID card when they first begin matriculation, or are first employed.

At one time, we allowed replacement cards for free if they had been damaged or stolen (evidenced by a Public Safety report). So many students declared their cards stolen when it turned out they were only lost, the Chief of Police asked us to change our policy to eliminate a stolen card from being replaced for free, unless they advised us of an incident that they were working on from another perspective. We implemented this change. Our policies now only provide for making a free replacement card if a card is damaged, and either it is the first replacement card for that student or if the mag stripe can still be read and we can determine it is the current card.

Originally, the cost of a replacement ID was $20. However, as we began to see an increasing number of students losing IDs, we changed the fee to $35, thinking that this would in itself be a motivating factor in students keeping their IDs safe. We have not found this to be the case. Currently, we make enough replacement ID cards to generate more than $100,000 in annual revenue for the university’s general fund. The record for ID card replacements for one student stands at 37.

Eat All of Your Meals. We know that if the students eat all of the meals on their meal plan, we would not have any missed meal factor and would need to make dining adjustments (hours, food quality, food variety, etc.), or would need to raise the cost of the meal plan. However, we always encourage them to eat all of their meals anyway. When we hear complaints at student forums that they can’t carry over their meals or dining dollars to the next semester, we remind them that they have been advised that they should eat all of their meals each semester.

All of our undergraduate resident students under the age of 25 are required to purchase a resident student plan. At this time, freshman students are required to purchase a full meal plan (or its dining dollar equivalent), and non-freshman students are required to purchase at least a reduced plan. Beginning next fall, we have been requested to allow all resident students to choose any plan they wish. Since there is a difference in cost of about $600 per plan, we will be watching their selections closely to try to mitigate revenue losses. Meanwhile, we will continue to encourage them to eat all of their meals.

Jean Ann Caywood
Jean Ann Caywood is Director of Auxiliary Services at Savannah State University.

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