Each year students, parents and faculty express concern over how much the cost of higher education has grown. The phrase, ‘tuition and fee increases,' is all that needs to be said to get people riled up and dipping into savings accounts.
Western regulates student fees as set by state legislation. Committees, often consisting of students and faculty, govern or oversee certain fees. These committees help determine the amount of increase that will occur toward a fee as long as the fee meets the specific criteria set forth by legislation.
“Each fee has its own policy,” said Stefan Kalb, Associated Students Vice President for Business and Operations. “For example, the green fee said that it can't be any higher than how much it costs for that green energy. If it goes above $19 dollars [per quarter] then you can't do it. The transportation fee has similar guidelines.”
Kalb serves on several committees that are directly involved with overseeing student fees. Some of these committees are the AS Budget Committee and the AS Facilities and Service council.
Linda P. Beckman, division director of Budget and Administration at Western, said certain student fee increases cannot exceed that of a tuition increase.
In the 2006-2007 academic year, there was a 6% tuition increase for in-state students. Therefore, any potential fees whose increases are determined by tuition increases cannot exceed a corresponding 6% increase. Other student fees have criteria written in the guidelines that do not allow the fee to exceed a certain limit.
“If you look at fees as a percent of tuition it's only gone from 20% to 22% over the course of 16 years,” said Beckman. “That was with the addition of a new fee as well. So [the fees] had actually dropped over time.”
For the 2006-2007 school year, mandatory student fees for students at the undergraduate in-state level were 22.1% of the total cost of attendance, totaling $1,180.50 dollars, with tuition covering 77.9% at $3,894 dollars. Total cost of attendance for in-state undergraduates is $5,076.50 dollars.
With increases in fees for the 2007-2008 school year, pending from the Board of Trustees, the recreation fee will increase by a dollar a quarter, the Service and Activity Fee will increase by 3.9%, the Health Services Fee will increase 5%. The Student Transportation Fee will also add a projected amount of $25 dollars per quarter. The renewable energy fee is under discussion.
“What's important to point out, whether students are paying tuition or fees, is that it's all being paid by students,” said Beckman. “When they initiate a student fee they have a great deal of say in what that money goes for. I think it's actually a benefit to students to have directed student fees that they can participate in the discussion on.”
Beckman goes on to say that these fees are all defined for a particular purpose and that's all they can be used for. There are different processes involved in where tuition goes, but that process is more complicated, involving faculty and staff as well as students.
One reason some of the fees aren't covered by the state, such as the student technology fee, is a budget issue, Beckman said.
“The state has limited dollars,” said Beckman. “So there's been a general shift to more tuition funded. At the same time there has been a great deal of effort to increase financial aid to those students who can't afford tuition. You could look at it as a model and say those who can afford to pay more, pay more. Those who don't, get more financial aid.”
Student fees apply as the school looks at a declining state contribution, Beckman said. There are not enough state dollars to fund such operations, she said.
“I think at a state level their budget is getting crunched every year,” said Kalb. “My personal feelings are that we have so many fees because we're starting to take responsibility for the university doings or what the university should be doing. Some of these things are starting to itch their way into fees when they should be in tuition â€“ things that the state and university should pay for.”
One example of students initiating a fee is the Student Recreation Fee. According to the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support Services, in February 2000, 76.5% voted in favor of a fee for the recreation center. This fee caused an increase of 39.6% in the total costs of mandatory fees for the 2003-2004 academic year. Since then, the Recreation Fee, like other fees, has increased.
According to the document compiled by the Division of Student Services and Academic Support Services, the fee pledged to repay $29.39 million dollars in bonds and support of future operations in the Wade King Recreation Center. The dollar increase for the Rec Center will partially help pay this bond back.
The Rec Center was able to save on a fee increase for next year, specifically because of money saved from not having two full-time positions, said Marie Sether, director of Western Campus Recreation Services.
“We said, ‘Why not use [the savings] next year so we don't have to increase the fee,'” Sether said. “I think the committee felt really good about that because at the time students were just voting on the transportation fee. How can we keep those fees down was the thought.”
The distribution of the fee revenue for the Student Recreation Fee, for example, is that 3.5% goes towards the Student Loan Fund per Revised Code of Washington, 54% towards a bond payment, and 42.5% towards operation and maintenance.
Why are fees like the Student Recreation Fee mandatory and not optional?
Sether said that once students voted for the building and a bond, they were approving to have the building and a bond to help construct it. With a 30-year mortgage, it's not something that can easily be taken away, Sether said
“The bond is built on a confirmation from the student body that they wanted it,” said Sether. “So when you borrow the money, it's assumed that's what students wanted. We can't really change that.”
Sether said that they want enough of the fee to cover the bond payments. The only cost going up is the cost of operations.
“The committee that sits on the S and A (Service and Activities) are all students and they're all representing different committees, so those students have the same concerns that any students would,” Sether said. “There is going to be representations of all these different groups, so they're hopefully going to be the ears of the rest of the students. They're not going to keep increasing and increasing unless there is a need for it.”
Beckman said that tuition and fees should never be equal unless students are comfortable paying more fees.
“We try very hard to keep the fees low,” Beckman said. “As the budget director, I look very carefully at looking at our budgets. Our division is known for heavy student involvement.”
Having a greater presence in Olympia is one way to combat the rising fees and make a case for higher education. It is citizens that speak up that make a difference, Beckman said.