ANALYSIS: Student ID Fees: A Matter of Ethics?

GCC quietly changes the process for ID cards after potentially not being in compliance with state regulations

If you’ve noticed a change in getting your student ID this year, it might be that you weren’t asked to shell out $10 for it this time. As of July 1, 2019, Glendale College will no longer charge for student IDs. In fact, the school should not have been charging for them in the first place.

The issue of our school possibly breaking state regulation was first brought forward by a local Burbank blogger, who runs the site, in late August. The blogger’s reporting eventually got picked up by the Los Angeles Times last month, leading to our college’s admission of fault and the subsequent policy change.

College students are known for their ability to stretch a dollar thanks to the growing cost of pursuing higher education. Unfortunately, for students who were here before this semester, those $10 you’ve spent on an ID in the past were essentially stolen. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office has been tasked with creating guidelines for community colleges around our state for years, and if you take a look at the updated student fee handbook, it becomes apparent that GCC has been charging students unrightfully for years. In section 4.4 of the handbook, it’s stated that: “ … student ID cards do not fall under the definition of ‘instructional materials’ and thus, charging a fee for a student ID card cannot be justified.”

Along with this standard for college policy, there is also a devastatingly clear warning to schools, urging that districts should “ensure that all of their materials describing optional student ID card fees clearly describe the optional nature of the fees.” The latest student fee handbook quoted above was released in 2012, meaning GCC should have been aware of the guidelines set and was negligent in their commitment to their students.

With an estimated 3,000 new students registering every semester, GCC has been questionably farming its student’s cash for years now. Although most students only acquire their ID once in their time at GCC, those new students seriously contributed to the profits made from ID sales.

According to Drew Sugars, the Dean of Communications and Relations at GCC, roughly $65,000 was collected each year the ID fee was in place. With this figure, it’s reasonable to estimate that from the time of publication of the student fee’s handbook in 2012 to the official policy change around the end of August this year, GCC collected around $390,000 from ID sales alone. Keep in mind that these ID cards only cost around a dollar to make, El Vaquero found, especially in such huge quantities to account for the thousands of students.

When approached by the Los Angeles Times for confirmation, Sugars portrayed the situation as a simple oversight in the article, mentioning how glad he was it was brought to staff’s attention.

Despite the claim of ignorance, it could easily be argued that the school was aware of this policy since it was set, and has been avoiding accusations of wrong-doing through the language used to explain the process of obtaining an ID. Before changes were made to the website, the ID section of the college’s student page stated that: “All students are asked to purchase an ID card.”

The subtle difference in posing the statement as students having an option could be what has kept this issue from blowing up as it has the past few months, since it can technically be interpreted as adhering to state regulation. Obviously most students see themselves as not having the option to choose between free or paid IDs, especially when they’re in line to take their photo right beside waiting cashboxes.

When asked for comment by El Vaquero, Sugars acknowledged the confusing language on the website and provided additional information on the issue. According to Sugars, GCC actually planned to stop charging for student IDs a few months ago, in an effort to help students save money as part of “The GCC Promise.”

He also explained that the Times story was what prompted a review of school services, and the eventual policy change, stating that: “The LA Times story prompted the decision to immediately stop assessing the fee prior to the Student Fees and Tuition Governance Committee approval.”

This of course begs the question: if GCC had the power to stop the collecting of funds immediately all along, why was it only implemented after receiving attention from the public eye, and how many other reviews has this issue conveniently been ignored in?

Glendale College has promised to refund a small portion of the money it got from its ID sales, but only for IDs purchased since Jan. 1, 2019. With such a low cost of production, the money that was sourced from students over the years has been almost entirely profit.

It is important to emphasize that funding for GCC is hardly the sole responsibility of students, especially since 75% of GCC’s funding comes directly from the state, according to the school’s website.

In fact, the sale of IDs is barely a drop in the bucket in terms of funding. With so much of funding being covered without the students help, besides tuition, it’s fair to see why students shouldn’t be “asked” or in this case misled, into giving their money away.

The position GCC is in is an extremely uncomfortable one, especially since getting a student ID is heavily encouraged by faculty and staff, and is basically required in order to take advantage of campus resources, most notably checking out library books.

If you’re part of the majority of students who have purchased identification in the past and are just learning about this issue, it might be because GCC doesn’t want you to know about it. Since its official policy change, GCC has done little to notify its students of its errors aside from a change to the ID section of its website where information for refunds was posted.

No courtesy emails since the policy change have been sent, no form of an apology, and no clarification given to El Vaquero staff when asked if the school would notify its students. Students who fit the bill for ID refunds should be expecting credit on their school account, or a check in the mail soon … hopefully.

Eian Gil can be reached at [email protected].