Watch out for rising fees

 Uncategorized
May 072008
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

Next year, our tuition will increase. University administration has indicated that the most likely hit will be about 9.5 percent, or $384 per semester.

On top at that, expect to see an increase of $35 per semester in student fees. Fees are add-ons to your regular tuition bill – they pay for everything from Hartshorn Health Center to the Recreation Center to CTV to student government. Thirty million dollars plus, and it all comes from us.

For many graduate students like myself, fee increases hit particularly hard. While many graduate students have our tuition covered as part of our assistantships, we still have to pay fees out-of-pocket.

Still, we’re the fortunate ones. Many other students struggle much harder to pay for every class they take.

Every additional dollar CSU charges – in tuition or fees – raises a barrier to a college education and makes it that much less likely that a student will be able to finish their college education or even start it in the first place.

At the same time, each additional dollar spent can – though it’s not guaranteed – improve the quality of the education we receive here at CSU.

This paradox is similar to the dilemma lawmakers face when they consider tax rates: Do they let us keep our money, or do they ask for more to spend as they see best?

Fortunately, we do have some input into this process. While we can’t stop the Board of Governors from raising tuition, we do have the Student Fee Review Board, a student panel that must approve any increase requested by the departments which receive student fees.

They’re the ones who vote to support the increased fee package you’ll be paying for next semester. So, as we contemplate this, I’d like to offer a few basic principles to guide future deliberations.

First, fee increases should be contained within reasonable limits.

Fees – both for individual entities and for the set of fees as a whole – shouldn’t generally rise faster than tuition.

Although the total fee package amounts to just less than a five percent increase, some individual fees will jump next year by close to 20 percent. If fees are to increase at a rate greater than inflation, and especially if they’re going to increase faster than tuition is increasing, the departments must demonstrate that their needs are truly dire.

Second, the Student Fee Review Board should demand accountability. Alongside every fee increase and budget detail, there need to be benchmarks.

If any department needs additional funds in order to expand or maintain their services, then there needs to be a way to measure and see whether they’ve accomplished their goals – and the next year, the SFRB needs to check and see whether those goals have been met.

Not only will this lead to more responsible use of funds, but it will help build institutional memory.

Third, the SFRB needs to attend to efficiencies within each department that receives student fees.

Beyond just expanding or maintaining services, the board needs to know what would be cut if the departments had to deal with sudden cost increases, inflation or enrollment shortfalls – all of which have happened in the recent past.

This goes hand in hand with setting concrete benchmarks, of course.

In order to fund services at the proper level, the board needs to know not just what departments could do with more money, but whether they could meet their goals with less.

It can be easy to be swayed by compelling arguments that spending more money will improve the quality of our education.

But those improvements will do no good if they price students out of a CSU degree.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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