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Why an Opt-Out Fee?

Like all fees at Carleton, the $9 MPIRG fee (assuming it is approved by the student body) will appear on the tuition statement of each student. However, unlike all other fees, every student has the right to decline to pay the MPIRG fee, or to receive a refund if they pay in error. This is known as an opt-out fee.

An opt-out fee is the fairest way to guarantee an adequate source of funding for the MPIRG program at Carleton — a program that provides students with valuable and unique extracurricular opportunities, and a voice in the political process — while still ensuring that no one has to pay if they don't want to pay.

The Opt-Out Process

Opting out is very simple: all that students will have to do is click a box on the Carleton website, and the fee will never be charged to them. Alternatively, if any student pays the fee by accident, he or she may obtain a refund at any time during the year.

We will work hard next fall to publicize the opt-out fee to every student on campus, so that everyone knows that they have the option not to pay if they don't want to pay, and that there are no consequences for declining to pay. Our plans include:

  • Sending an e-mail to every Carleton student before the beginning of the school year, explaining what MPIRG is, what issues we work on, and where the MPIRG fee goes. This e-mail will contain a link to the website where students may decline to pay the MPIRG fee.
  • Placing a slip of paper in the mailbox of every student at the beginning of the year, with simple instructions about how to obtain a refund if they paid by accident.
  • Visiting every study break on campus to ensure that freshmen understand the MPIRG fee and know that they have the opportunity to receive a refund.
  • Placing ads in the NNB and other campus publications to explain the refund process.

We are happy to take suggestions for additional steps to publicize the MPIRG fee. Furthermore, if there are any groups on campus (such as international students) for whom awareness of the fee is a particular concern, we are eager to work with OIIL and other offices and departments to spread the word.

Why Opt-Out?

Studies have shown that opt-in fees generate much less revenue than opt-out fees. This is because individuals look at an opt-in fee and ask themselves, "Why should I pay for X program when no one else is paying for it?," or, "Why should I pay for it when I can benefit from it without paying?" It's the classic "free rider" problem, and it's the reason why most fees at Carleton, and most taxes in the real world, are mandatory.

If we want to have a certain program on campus, if we believe it is beneficial for Carleton, then we must pay for it collectively. Otherwise, it would be extremely difficult to raise enough money to support it. Imagine if any sports team at Carleton were to try to sustain itself through an opt-in fee. Most people, even those who support the goals of the program, would likely not pay. In that case, the team would have two options: try to get by on much less funding, or spend a lot of time fundraising — in which case, they wouldn't have enough time to actually practice, prepare for games, etc.

The cost of the MPIRG program at Carleton is approximately $18,000 — relatively small compared to the budgets of some sports teams, but we simply can't raise that much money through fundraising, especially if we want to spend some time actually working on the issues, planning events and actions, and so on. At the same time, we recognize that some Carleton students disagree with our stances on the issues we work on, and for some, the fee is a financial burden. For that reason, we have chosen to pursue an opt-out fee. The opt-out fee allows for a collective method of funding, largely bypassing the free rider problem, while still giving each individual the ability to choose not to pay if they don't want to pay.

It's worth keeping in mind that every other fee on campus is mandatory, and that the MPIRG fee is the only fee that we all, as a student body, get to vote on at Carleton. There's nothing deceptive about a fee that is assessed through a democratic vote and is widely publicized, with an opt-out process that is easy, fast, and painless (it's literally as simple as checking a box, and it takes about thirty seconds).