University of Arizona student Tiffany Lee pays more than $1,000 in fees every year, in addition to tuition.
Since she started in fall 2010, the technology fee has gone up about $200 to $480 a year. The health and recreation fee has doubled to $300. Some semesters, she has class fees as well: $100 for chemistry, $50 for physics.
Beginning next Monday, the undergraduate faces another fee. A 2.5 percent “convenience fee” if she wants to pay her university bill by credit card or debit card. Fed up with fees, she decided to fight back. She started an online petition that has about 6,900 supporters.
“It just kind of seemed unnecessary,” she said of the fee, which would cost her an additional $264 a year if she put the full cost of her UA tuition and fees, $10,581, on a card over the next school year.
Lee considers her petition more symbolic at this point. But her activism underscores a larger trend unfolding at Arizona’s state universities. Just as tuition rates have soared since the recession, student fees also have risen sharply — revenue from fees quadrupled to $211 million from 2007 to 2013, according to data compiled by the Arizona Board of Regents.
University officials say the tuition and fee increases were necessary after losing 50 percent of their per-student state funding during the economic downturn. As academic departments faced budget cuts, more turned to fees to try to make up some of the difference and maintain quality.
Fees could take on even more significance in the future. Fees aren’t included in the guaranteed tuition rates that are good for eight semesters at Northern Arizona University and now at UA. So there are concerns among students that total costs could continue to climb if new fees are added — even as tuition rates are frozen.
The $211 million figure includes mandatory fees as well as fees charged for some classes and by some academic programs or schools. The total doesn’t include optional fees, such as parking or credit-card fees.
Tuition is still a far bigger expense than fees. By comparison, the universities took in $1.6 billion in tuition revenue last year.
Some of the revenue growth is the result of increased enrollment; the full-time student body grew 24 percent over that same time period. But the number of fees has also steadily increased. For example, 53 program fees have been added at the graduate and undergraduate level over the past six years.
More fees are being added this fall. The regents recently approved 36 new or increased program fees and seven new or increased class fees. The change is expected to bring in an additional $10 million. And this estimate doesn’t include Arizona State University’s $150 per-student mandatory athletic fee, which is expected to raise $10 million a year for athletics.
The escalation of fees is prompting the regents to review the subject this summer. It’s not clear how far they will go with fee reform. But it’s possible university officials may need to provide more justification to add or raise fees.
“We want to take a hard look at all of the fees that are being charged … and how all these fees advance student learning,” Regents President Eileen Klein said.
She also would like the universities to provide the regents periodically with a list of all the fees that are charged. Right now, some fees need the regents’ approval. But others, such as parking, are at the discretion of the university. The regents aren’t even sure exactly how many fees there are.
Class fees rise
The fees charged at Arizona universities can’t be compared nationally because fees vary so much at each institution. At ASU, for example, annual in-state tuition is $9,484 this fall for undergraduates plus $673 in mandatory fees. ASU and NAU already have a convenience fee for charging tuition payments.
Mandatory fees cover services such as recreation centers and technology like wireless Internet.
Other fees only apply to some students. Classes that require special equipment, like a chemistry lab, often charge fees. The number of class fees has risen, according to the regents. Of the 12,142 classes offered this spring, 28 percent charged a fee. Most fees were less than $100.
Some schools and programs also charge fees, such as engineering and journalism. Last year, the state universities had 139 of these program fees, up from 86 in 2007. Most of these program fees are still at the graduate level. But in recent years, more undergraduate programs have started charging fees.
Program fees are increasingly common, according to a 2011 survey by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. The report found the number of universities charging fees began steadily increasing in 1995. The survey found that 41 percent of four-year public institutions that offered doctoral degrees charged extra for some of their programs. The most common fees were for business, engineering and nursing.
The theory behind the change is that fees can be a fairer way of paying for an education. Students in programs with higher operating costs pay more without the entire student body having to shoulder the expense.
The fee approach is a departure from how college used to be for undergraduates — where tuition and fees were about the same regardless of major.
At least one major study has found a downside to program fees. A 2013 report at the University of Michigan found evidence that adding fees affected enrollment of lower-income students, who were already underrepresented in certain academic fields. The report found that adding fees for engineering students was associated with fewer lower-income students entering the field.
The study’s author, assistant professor Kevin Stange, recommended universities increase financial aid for needy students to help offset the fees.
At UA, programs that charge fees set aside a portion of the fee revenue to help financially needy students, UA Vice Provost Gail Burd said.
Classes and programs seeking to charge fees have to justify the charge. Some classes that take field trips charge a fee to cover transportation costs, she said. A program that requires internships might charge a fee to cover the salary of the university staffer coordinating job training.
If the fee can’t be justified, it gets rejected, she said.
New athletic fee
In some cases, fees are sought to help money-losing programs. ASU’s athletic department is among the most heavily subsidized in the country, receiving the equivalent of $10 million a year in cash and athletic scholarships from the university.
This fall, athletics will start receiving revenue from a new, $150-per-student annual athletics fee. ASU President Michael Crow has said the fee will enable the university to put the money that used to go to athletics toward academic programs. The fee is expected to raise $10 million.
The athletic fee has the support of student-government groups. And students do wind up with some benefits. In exchange for the fee, a portion of the seats at football and men’s basketball games will be made available at no cost to students.
But the fee is less popular with individual students.
ASU sophomore Candice McNamara said a lot of people don’t go to sporting events. The 20-year-old works two jobs and has taken out a student loan to pay for school. She struggles to come up with rent money. To her, even $20 goes a long way. And a lot of her fees are $50 or more.
It’s not clear how far the regents will go in reforming fees. The board could require more justification for fees. Or the regents may put in place a “sunset” process for fees to expire if they can no longer be justified. In the end, the regents need to make sure the universities aren’t pricing themselves out of the market by adding fees to some programs.
“(We have to) make sure we don’t lose students, or drive them elsewhere, if they can’t afford the fees associated with classes,” said Klein, the regents president. (The Republic)