UConn has revamped its system of student fees and eliminated several categories that added costs for students in specific majors or for certain classes’ academic materials beyond textbooks.
The UConn Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to accept President Susan Herbst’s recommendations to streamline the fee system as based on a report from a Student Fee Review Committee she appointed last year.
More than 10,000 UConn students will see their costs reduced as part of the changes, which will be reflected on the fall 2018 fee bills and are designed to ensure that those costs 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 last several years, despite reductions in state appropriations and increased operating costs.
One of the biggest changes is the elimination and permanent prohibition of fees for certain majors and for academic materials, which are currently charged to more than 10,000 students in labs and other specific courses.
“We asked ourselves whether or not these two sets of fees really fit with the student experience we want to offer here at the University and we came to a consensus … that when a student pays tuition, that should cover the costs of their education,” Scott Jordan, the university’s chief financial officer and executive vice president for administration, told trustees Wednesday.
Jordan said the 18,000 individual fee bills generate only about $400,000 per year, while creating a complex system in which the University has to track all fees individually when they are charged, ensure they are refunded if a class is dropped, and engage in other time-consuming administrative work that offsets the money that they generate.
“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,” the committee’s report says.
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.”
The Board of Trustees’ vote also approves Herbst’s recommendation for the establishment of a new Executive Student Fee Committee, which will hold a public review process for every new student fee request and would advise on fee-related policy decisions.
The changes include:
- Eliminating “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.
- Eliminating 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. They 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.
- Modifying the General University Fee (GUF) 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 GUF charged to Storrs students and making it a stand-alone fee; reallocating the GUF charged to regional campus students so that three-quarters of the money returns to that campus for student support, rather than all going to Storrs; reviewing the transit fee to ensure that 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, decision-making process by which fee funds are allocated, and other details took place in 2001.
The Student Fee Review Committee, which Jordan chaired, included a blend of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrative representatives.