News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 17, 2012

ISU class surveys campus on ‘green fee’ for e-support

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — An Indiana State University survey asks students if they would support a nominal — and optional — “sustainability tuition tax,” also known as a green fee, to support environmental initiatives on campus.

The question is one of many asked as part of an ISU environmental survey created by the Institute for Community Sustainability. It is the third such survey “to gauge ISU’s concern about environmental issues.”

The electronic survey, which started Dec. 5 and was to have been concluded Friday, generated more than 1,900 responses — more than 1,200 of them from students, said Jim Speer, the institute’s executive director. As of Friday, 30 staff, 29 faculty and six administrators also participated. The balance of those surveyed are not directly associated with ISU.

About 10 percent of ISU students participated this year and last, Speer said. The study is conducted as part of his Introduction to Environmental Science course.

Some of the other questions asked of respondents are how important they believe it is to conserve energy; how concerned they are about global warming; whether they believe they can make a difference through their own energy conservation efforts; and how much they think the government is doing to prevent climate change.

So far, “The results are extremely encouraging. Most of the people taking the survey care about sustainability,” said Caroline Savage, the institute’s assistant director.

When asked the question, “How concerned are you that human behavior might be permanently harming the environment?” 71 percent of those who answered stated that they are somewhat or extremely concerned.

In response to the question, “Would you support an optional sustainability tuition tax of a small amount of money (possibly 50 cents per credit hour) each semester to support sustainability efforts on campus?” preliminary results show that 61 percent responded yes and 39 percent no.

It does not break down how many of those answering “yes” are students, although 64 percent of those taking the overall survey are students, Savage said.

A followup question asks, “How much of a sustainability tuition tax would you support for each semester?” Preliminary results show that 627, or 34 percent indicated $0; 508 or 27 percent, $1 to $5; and 249, or 13 percent, $6 to $10.

There is student support for a sustainability fee on campus, Savage said. Students, through a committee, would determine how funds are used. Other schools across the country have “green fees” and offer “amazing programs,” she said. Money raised can be used to fund sustainability studies and other projects, she said.

At Indiana University, “Students pay $5 through registration on a voluntary basis,” said Emilie Rex, IU assistant director of sustainability.

Savage said any move to institute green fees at ISU “would be driven by students,” although it would call for Board of Trustees approval.

ISU’s administration has no plans for a sustainability tax, or green fee, at this time, said Dave Taylor, ISU director of media relations.

There is student interest on campus, said Jacob Asbury, a graduating senior who has been involved with the Student Government Association. He helped create a Student Senate sustainability subcommittee this fall.

“We want to make it a student-led deal,” said Asbury, who graduated Saturday. At 50 cents per credit hour, it’s estimated such a green fee could raise about $180,000 per year.

The Student Senate showed strong support for a sustainability fee last year, and the issue will be addressed again this spring. The student sustainability subcommittee will help create greater student awareness this spring.

The intent is go educate students about what the money would be used for and “why it’s good for ISU,” Asbury said. The committee is working with the Institute for Community Sustainability.

Those involved emphasize the fee — if it became reality — would be optional for students.

“This is still a long process,” Speer stated.  “SGA will hold some student forums and it won’t be voted on by students until the March SGA elections (to get the largest possible student voice). This does have to be voted on by the board of trustees before it would be enacted, but ISU and SGA are just in the early stages of the discussions on this sustainability fee,” Speer said.

Many other universities have student sustainability fees “and it seems to literally and figuratively encourage student buy-in to sustainability practices on campus, which helps them modify their behavior and leads to conservation of energy and economic savings for the school,” Speer stated.

He noted that the relatively new Institute for Community Sustainability — and all Unbounded Possibilities proposals —  were directed to diversify revenue funds, and this is one way to accomplish that objective.

ISU’s Unbounded Possibilities programs encourage collaboration with outside partners and also work to address community and societal needs.

Speer said he will do much more analysis on the survey data over winter break and report on it during  the Institute for Community Sustainability Fellows meeting on Jan. 2.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or