After two years of instability, the Yukon College Student Union is getting back on its feet with a lot of money and some big ideas.
For the last couple of years, the student union has been struggling with high executive member turnover and messy financial statements that prevented it from doing or spending much of anything.
“A big focus for us this year is to get our accounts sorted out. One of the reasons we have a substantial budget this year is that there hasn’t been enough capacity within the student union to spend the amount of money we have,” said president Daniel Ashley.
The student union has been collecting fees from students all along, but the money was held in trust until the organization could show it was in good financial order.
“Because our fiscal calendar doesn’t line up with our school year, as a result of that there were some issues with getting the financial returns straightened out,” Ashley said.
This year though, with new membership and help from the college’s student services department, they’ve tidied up the books and found they are sitting on a significant chunk of change.
Between the cash on hand and the student fees held in trust, the union has more than $80,000 to play with.
Ashley said they’re asking students for input on how the money should be spent. One of the biggest changes students want to see is a long-discussed student transit pass program, including night bus service to the school.
“We think it would be fantastic for people to have a transit pass, but we don’t want it to become another fee students have to pay,” Ashley said. Instead, the student union is negotiating with the college to share the cost of a pass system. The student union would pay half – $30 per student – and hopes the college can pick up the other half.
“Taking $30 per student would be about half of our annual revenue and we’re hoping that would be matched by student services,” Ashley said.
“I think it would be amazing if we can come up with an agreed-upon partnership for transit for students,” said Colleen Wirth, the director of student services at the college.
“The big wish list would also incorporate (night bus service). That is in the bigger city budget picture, and of course that has to wait to be seen, but it’s definitely something that is needed up here and our students have been asking for,” Wirth said.
Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said the proposal is already before council, and while it’s too early to say whether it will be included in the next budget, he would love to see the long-awaited program come to fruition.
“Absolutely, I think it’s really important. I think it’s the responsibility of a community to offer these essential services. This is something that’s been going on for many, many years, trying to figure out if there’s the ability to offer that service,” Curtis said.
Another concern that the student union wants to tackle is a proposed tuition increase.
The college has proposed a 1.85 per cent tuition increase to cover the rising cost of living for its staff. That means the cost per credit will go from $108 to $110.
While Ashley acknowledges that isn’t an enormous jump, he said the student union is still worried about financially vulnerable students. The union will ask Education Minister Scott Kent for an increase in student funding through the Yukon Grant that will match the 1.85 per cent increase.
“The funding streams have had cost-of-living increases before. It needs to be understood that if there’s going to be a cost increase for students, a cost-of-living increase would be really good for us, too,” Ashley said.
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