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ExCo to raise fees for nonstudents, continue to reform

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The Experimental College (ExCo) will raise fees for non-UW students for the first time in more than a decade. Next year, the general public will pay $12 to register for classes instead of $10.

This fee increase is part of an attempt by ASUW to reform the organization. In recent years, ExCo has been under increasing pressure to become net-zero. ASUW President Conor McLean said making the organization net-zero will take hard work.

“There’s not going to be an easy fix or an easy solution,” McLean said. “We’ve been trying to fix ExCo for at least the last five years.”

Since its 1968 founding, ExCo has endured numerous financial successes and failures. In winter 1997, the ASUW Board of Control, now called the Board of Directors, voted to close the organization for two quarters because it was running a $71,000 deficit. The director of ExCo was fired about a month later. ExCo re-opened in fall 1997 with a new computer system, which cost about $40,000.

The reforms instituted upon ExCo’s reopening allowed the organization to operate as net-zero by 2001. In 2002, the organization turned a $7,000 profit. But, by 2006 ExCo was running at a deficit again, and hasn’t been net-zero since.

Experimental College Director Alexandra Dolk explained that every year ExCo gets a $27,000 subsidy from ASUW that covers the director and assistant director’s salaries. Beyond that, ExCo can ask for more money from the association, and that money is referred to as the “deficit.” The enterprise asked for $15,000 this year, but aren’t expecting to use all of the money. ASUW expects that this year’s deficit will be about $12,000.

Dolk said one-third of people who take ExCo classes are students and two-thirds are not. Neil Rotta, who served as ASUW’s director of finance and budgeting last year and ExCo’s director the year before, said that even though ExCo gets money from the Services and Activities Fee, students are still the ones benefitting. He explained that students only pay $5 in registration fees and that general-public participation allows the organization to offer a wider variety of classes.

“I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to say that it’s the general public subsidizing UW students,” Rotta said.

Rotta said the organization has run a deficit the majority of the years it has been in existence. He questioned whether a net-zero ExCo is feasible in the long term. But that doesn’t mean recent cuts aren’t helping. He said that prior to last year, ExCo operated on a budget of about $200,000. Now, its budget is about $150,000. He said the fee increases should further decrease the budget.

Evan Smith, who currently serves as ASUW’s director of university affairs and will be next year’s ASUW president, said ExCo’s budgetary fluctuations can be blamed on how the organization is run. Each year ExCo has a new director, and Smith said this hurts the organization because there isn’t continuity in leadership.

“ExCo is a business, and it requires such strong management and institutional memory,” Smith said. “I think that the turnover rate can be why you see that fluctuation. … People aren’t able to follow through on projects. When it comes to ExCo, you need a strategic plan for 20 years.”

Smith also blamed ExCo’s current deficit on the economy. Dolk agreed and said this trend is reversing. ExCo’s registration decreased for 10 years, but Dolk said this year’s registration numbers are the same as last year’s.

“I think in the last four or five years the downturn is because of the economy,” Dolk said. “That’s why we’re seeing the stabilization as the economy picks up again.”

Dolk cited the Internet as another reason for ExCo’s registration decrease. She said students used to take classes about things they can now learn about on the Internet — like how to do a magic trick.

Smith said that next year ASUW will tackle the issue of ExCo’s cultural relevancy. The organization was founded by ASUW as a way for students to express their freedom. A 1968 article in The Daily called ExCo the “brain-child” of then-student Mike Mandeville, who hoped that the organization would, “eliminate having entitled administrators sitting around doing nothing.”

McLean said ExCo can’t operate solely on this vision anymore.

“In the ’60s it started as an idea of students not liking the institution and wanting to teach classes for free,” McLean said. “We’re in 2012, so it’s a little different now.”

But Smith and Dolk don’t think cultural relevancy is a major problem for the organization. Dolk said the value of ExCo lies in its ability to offer classes students can’t find anywhere else in the city, like flirting classes and juggling classes. Smith agreed.

“Cultural relevancy is an issue that we need to tackle,” Smith said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be too difficult because there’s always something students are interested in learning that you can’t get here. … Students should have access to a variety of classes without regulation, and I think that’s a part of the hippie culture from when it was created. People still want that now, but it a pragmatic way that doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

Dolk said students who register for ExCo classes are largely interested in dance classes, some of which she has taken herself. She has plans to increase ExCo’s marketing, especially to entering students.

“What we want to aim for next year is making ExCo classes a part of the UW experience like they used to be,” Dolk said.

Reach Amelia Dickson at news@dailyuw.com.

Twitter: @ameliadickson

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