Proposal to Streamline Fees Would Reduce Student Costs

Students in Wilbur Cross Building. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
More than 10,000 UConn students across campuses would see their costs reduced, as part of a review committee’s recommendations to rationalize the University’s system of fees. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

More than 10,000 UConn students would see their costs reduced, as part of a review committee’s recommendations to streamline the University’s system of fees for course materials, certain student services, and other non-tuition expenses.

President Susan Herbst last year appointed the Student Fee Review Committee, made up of staff, faculty, and students. The committee delivered its comprehensive review to Herbst in January, with recommendations meant to ensure that fees charged to students are fair, reasonable, consistently applied, and logical.

Those fees pay for non-academic programs ranging from student government to transportation, student media, technology infrastructure, student activities, and other programs. UConn has held student fees steady for the past several years, despite reductions in state appropriations and increased operating costs.

The Student Fee Review Committee’s recommendations will be reviewed in town hall-style meetings today (Tuesday, Feb. 6) in the Konover Auditorium of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. The first was held at 1 p.m., and the second takes place at 5 p.m.

Students should reasonably expect that their tuition will cover most of the cost of their academic instruction, with some well understood exceptions such as the purchase of textbooks. — Student Fee Review Committee

“The committee believes its recommendations will improve the level of fairness, logic, equability, and transparency with respect to student fees at UConn, as the University works to balance student needs with overall affordability,” the review committee wrote in its report.

Herbst will recommend the committee’s proposals on Feb. 21 to the Board of Trustees, which would vote on whether to adopt some or all of them.

One change that would be the most immediately noticeable to students if adopted is the committee’s recommendation to eliminate fees for certain majors and for academic materials, which are currently charged to more than 10,000 students in labs and other specific courses.

In addition to eliminating the fees, the group also recommends permanently banning academic materials fees and the fees for certain majors to help ensure they aren’t resurrected in the future.

“The consensus of the committee is that students should reasonably expect that their tuition will cover most of the cost of their academic instruction, with some well understood exceptions such as the purchase of textbooks,” the committee’s report says.

“Individually, the materials fees are so small and generate so little revenue … that charging them creates the unwanted perception that the University is ‘nickel and diming’ students by charging what amounts to a nuisance fee after they have already paid their tuition and fee bills and purchased their books and other materials.”

In the case of the additional fee charged for some majors and the additional materials charges for some courses, the fees were added “slowly and sporadically over time,” without the benefit of having a university-wide policy that would have helped guide the decisions, the group’s report says.

Herbst noted when she appointed the Student Fee Review Committee that fees are implemented over the years for many different reasons, not created all at once – an observation that the group’s review found to be the case in multiple instances.

“Because of that, a patchwork of fees develops – all dating to different decades and eras, and many are arrived at through different processes,” Herbst said at the time, adding that is very common at universities nationwide. “Knowing that, it is wise for institutions to press ‘pause’ from time to time to assess their fees and fee structure, from top to bottom.”

To try to ensure the equity and rationale for any future fee changes, the group also recommends the establishment of a new Executive Student Fee Committee, which would hold a public review process for every new student fee request and would advise on fee-related policy decisions.

The details of the Student Fee Review Committee’s recommendations are as follows:

  • Eliminate “major fees” charged specifically to students majoring in landscape architecture, maritime studies, drama, business, nursing, music, and digital media and design. They range from $10 yearly in business to $700 yearly in landscape architecture.
    The rationale for the various fees as they were adopted over the years had been that certain majors have unique characteristics that generate unusual costs, but the committee noted that there seemed to be no solid rhyme or reason to back up those assertions. Ending the fees also helps eliminate the potential that students may avoid what they perceive as high-cost majors if they are unable or unwilling to pay the fees, even though that is the area they wanted to study.
  • Eliminate academic materials fees, which currently are charged to more than 10,000 students in about 170 labs and other courses in engineering; fine arts; liberal arts and sciences; pharmacy; and agriculture, health, and natural resources. These fees range from $10 to $95.
    The committee says students should reasonably expect that their tuition covers such non-textbook materials, and that many of the fees generate so little revenue that the schools or colleges offering the course would feel very little financial impact.
  • Modify the General University Fee that is paid to support student-related programs ranging from the Career Development Center to Student Activities, UConn Recreation, and others.
    The changes include removing Student Health Services from the General University Fee charged to Storrs students and making it a stand-alone fee; reallocating the General University Fee charged to regional campus students so three-quarters of the money returns to that campus for student support, rather than all going to Storrs; reviewing the transit fee to ensure the amount reflects the level of access that students have to CT Transit and other public transportation; and other adjustments.

UConn’s Board of Trustees review UConn’s undergraduate and graduate student fee amounts each year. However, the last in-depth scrutiny of the fee structure, the decision-making process by which fee funds are allocated, and other details took place in 2001.

The Student Fee Review Committee, chaired by Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Scott Jordan, included a blend of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrative representatives.