Andrew Pazdon: The real cost of student fees

I keep getting an e-mail from ebill@gwu.edu telling me that I owe $2.70 for dropping a class too late in the semester. This fee is all that stands in my way financially from graduating in December.

My $2.70 fee may be annoying, but more importantly, fees levied against students are a regressive form of taxation that can be charged whenever the University deems it “necessary or desirable,” according to the University Bulletin. Fees are doled out with no regard for one’s ability to pay, which is unfair for those with financial woes.

While the University has an impressive affordability model in terms of cost of entrance, it condones imposing an excess of fees at every turn that are not need-blind. I can see some fees being reasonable, but they all must be justified and cannot simply be levied at will.

These fees remove the equal footing students enjoy upon entering the University. Fees, big and small, are an unfair form of taxation on students, and people shouldn’t be subject to fees when they are levied without consideration about ability to pay.

Based on the University Bulletin, there aren’t that many fees, and most are some sort of late charge. There is an $80 late registration fee and a $135 late graduation fee – fair enough, I suppose.

But the list is short, because it doesn’t include them all.

There’s no mention of the $60 “lab fee” I had to pay for each of my French classes, despite the fact that I only found myself in the language lab once in three semesters. Nor are the $10 or $25 transcript fees for rush, personal pick-up or expedited services. I can only imagine how many more fees exist out in the tangled web of the GW bureaucracy that are levied indiscriminately without regard for students’ financial situations.

Considering students are essentially customers of the University, the University should have to sufficiently explain each fee.

The Student Association is doing exciting work to bring to light the multitude of fees the University imposes on students. I was happy to hear Student Association Executive Vice President Ted Costigan reiterate my own concerns that fees represent a regressive tax on students, by limiting and hurting those who can’t easily pay. At first, the fee task force will focus on printing, study abroad and campus equipment and room rental. After considering these three major fees, and what can be done to limit them, the fee commission will move on to consider other costs students face.

But lessening the burden of student fees should be more than a Student Association priority.

The University should work to limit the profusion of fees across all departments and schools and centralize the power to levy fees at all. It would be difficult to have a fees system that accounts for ability to pay, but this pervasive culture of fees can ultimately be curbed. The University should not turn to students for additional funds when student tuition is already so high. And if there is a fee, the University should be able to strongly justify it beyond saying it needs more money.

Something that has always bothered me is seeing institutions of learning operate like businesses. Fees like these constantly make me question whether education is its priority or if building a leviathan institution for the institution’s sake is. In an ideal world, there would be no need for fees, but I know that is merely wishful thinking.

In my waning weeks of college, I’m tempted to see if $2.70 could thwart three and a half years of education.

Andrew Pazdon, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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