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Following Activities Fee Increase, More Students Opt Out

Fall in Harvard Yard
Students make their way through Harvard Yard.

Following the College’s decision last year to raise the student activities fee — an optional sum Harvard undergraduates pay as part of their enrollment costs — more students opted out of paying the fee this year, according to College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman.

The fee, which is now administered by the newly formed Dean of Students Office, rose by more than150 percent from $75 to $200 this academic year. The change marked the first increase to the fee in more than a decade.

In an interview Tuesday, Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alexander R. Miller said the the purpose of the fee is to “create a vibrant student experience” and support student organizations through grants distributed by the Undergraduate Council.

The fee also supports student House Committees and events run by the College Events Board, Miller wrote in an emailed statement in fall 2018.

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By default, undergraduates pay the student activities fee, but they can avoid the charge by mailing a letter to the College before Sept. 30 each year detailing their reasons for opting out. All requests are honored, according to the Harvard College Student Handbook.

In spring 2018, College spokesperson Rachael Dane said roughly 1 percent of students at the College had opted out of the fee between 2015 and 2018. The fee is optional for all undergraduates regardless of whether or not they receive financial aid, according to Dane.

As of last spring, the fee brought in roughly $500,000 in revenue, according to Miller. Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair and Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 said in an interview Tuesday that, with the fee’s increase this year, revenue has also increased.

Goldman declined to comment on the amount of revenue the fee generated this academic year.

Roughly half of more than 30 undergraduates surveyed by The Crimson in dining halls Thursday evening said they had not heard of the student activities fee. Of the 17 students surveyed who said they were familiar with the fee, eight said they were aware the fee was optional. Only three said they knew it had risen this academic year.

Anna Mazur ’20 said she opted out of the fee using the College’s procedures. Mazur said she learned the fee was optional through an email that a member of Harvard Primus — a group formerly known as the First-Generation Student Union — sent across the group’s mailing list.

“A lot of people [in Primus] were upset that we didn’t know about this earlier,” Mazur said.

Mazur said she thought the College should have more prominently informed students that the fee was optional.

“I think they should have let people know because that’s a lot. If [the increase] was like $75 to $85, then whatever,” she said.

In March 2018, Harvard announced that the cost of attendance for Harvard College would increase by about 3 percent — or $1,971 — from the previous year. The changes took effect in August.

—Staff writer Sanjana L. Narayanan can be reached at sanjana.narayanan@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at samuel.zwickel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.

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