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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Florida SouthWestern State College has shifted about 40 percent of student fees once used to pay for extracurricular activities to cover a large portion of the school's new baseball, softball and basketball programs.
The other 60 percent continues to fund extracurricular programs, most of which had their budgets slashed as part of the restructuring.
Each student, by state law, pays $11.88 per credit hour in student fees, with $4.75 of those hourly fees now devoted to athletics. There were about 16,000 students enrolled at FSW this fall.
In 2015, FSW drew $2.4 million in student fees, with almost $500,000 going to athletics. In 2016, the college earned $2.3 million in student fees, with almost $1 million going to the new sports programs. All of the budget shifts were voted upon and approved by the college's student government association.
Until last year, when FSW's baseball and softball teams played their fall seasons, FSW had not fielded a sports team since 1997.
FSW celebrates the opening of Suncoast Credit Union Arena at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a women's and men's basketball doubleheader.
The students can get into basketball games for free and sit in the designated student seating sections behind one of the baskets.
Faculty and members of the alumni association get a 20 percent discount.
In order to make the grand opening of the arena a reality, the school readjusted the student affairs and student services departments' budgets the past two years at the four campuses - Lee County, Collier, Charlotte and Hendry Glades Center in LaBelle.
The college eliminated $417,778.54 from student affairs and services departments from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 school years. That money that used to fund intramural athletics and extracurricular programs and career counseling now go to athletics. It pays for the four head coaches, assistant coaches and athletic administrative staff.
Not all of the extracurricular budgets were cut. There are 35 campus clubs, ranging from chess, dental hygiene and respiratory care to yoga. Some of those clubs receive funding. That funding grew by $5,000, to $24,500 in 2015-16. Student affairs budgets grew by $54,178.
But no budget grew more than athletics, which had an increase from $493,810 in 2015 to $916,738 this year. The athletics budget, which covers nine full-time employees, several part-time employees, insurance and other expenses, will grow again in 2018, when volleyball gets added.
Gina Doeble, FSW vice president of administrative services since 2010, said the budget shifts resulted from at least four years of planning. Even though sizable amounts of money to pay employees disappeared from some areas and reappeared in athletics, she said no one was fired during the transition.
"When people left, or when people retired, we restructured," Doeble said. "We combined some departments when it made sense."
Student services used to include career counseling. That has shifted to become a part of academic advising, Doeble said, which falls under the academic budget. Doing so freed more money for athletics and made sense for the college, she said.
FSW also centralized its student activities to the Lee, Collier and Charlotte campuses. Hendry Glades Center no longer has a student affairs program dedicated to its campus, she said, but it remains informed by the other campuses that still have those programs. Eliminating student affairs from Hendry Glades saved $59,152.
"It's a one-college concept versus each campus having its own," Doeble said. "There was a lot of duplication of services. Hendry Glades, we have a much smaller facility and smaller campus. It's hard to have a full-time position out there when it's really not a full-time job."
The presence of the arena on the Edison campus in Fort Myers will provide a fitness center inside not just for the student-athletes but for all students, Doeble said.
The News-Press interviewed a cross section of students on the Fort Myers campus and none of them knew they were funding the sports programs nor that the basketball teams were making their home debuts on Tuesday. Student-athletes were not made available for interviews.
"I had no idea," Mike Jones, 23, said of how his student fees were used. "I thought all of it was going to classes, honestly."
Jones, a Gateway Charter graduate, is taking 12 credit hours, a typical course load at FSW., and studying nursing.
Jones' student fees amount to $142.56. Forty percent of that money - $57 - goes toward sports. The rest of it goes toward student clubs, student government, student health care, student leadership training and supporting administrative costs to provide services that benefit students, according to FSW's student handbook.
"I think it's good for the school to have more to offer," Jones said of athletics. "I'm not opposed to it."
Felipe Murillo, 20 and a North Fort Myers High graduate, said he felt 50/50 toward athletics.
"Almost every university has a sports program," said Murillo, who is taking nine credit hours and is receiving financial aid through a Pell grant. "It's kind of like a staple for a college. To me, it's a waste of money.
"On the other hand, it opens up opportunities for the student-athletes. So I'm playing devil's advocate here. I'm 50/50. It's an investment, obviously. From a business standpoint, I feel it's a bad investment. It's not like this is a big university. This is a small college. We're not in Central Florida. We're not in Tampa. We're not in Gainesville. It's a different demographic."
Jaeaira Whitfield, 20, is taking 12 credit hours in nursing this semester. The South Fort Myers High graduate said she wasn't sure if she would get anything out of an athletic program at school.
"I don't know how to feel about it," Whitfield said. "It could be great if it turns out to be something great for our community. It gives people a place to go and support our teams. I don't think it's bad if basketball players are getting scholarships. It gives us something positive to look forward to."
None of the students planned on attending the grand opening Tuesday, but all of them said they would be open to attending games in the future.
Doeble, who has worked at FSW since 2003 when it was known as Edison Community College, said the rebranding and rebooting of athletics is changing the school for the better.
"It's just great to see students in FSW and Bucs gear," she said, referring to the school's Buccaneers mascot. "We never saw that before when we were Edison.
"Our students are younger. They're more active. This is a different place. Athletics, I think it's a great part of the college experience, having teams you can relate to. Whether you're into sports or not, it brings a sense of community."
FSW student fees budget
Here are some highlights of how student fees were rearranged in order to create an athletics program:
VP, Student affairs
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