Doug Cohen: The cost of student fees

It’s hard to avoid the chatter about student fees these days.

Between daily complaints from students about paying out-of-pocket costs, to the Student Association’s effort to bring the issue to the Board of Trustees, the issue is gaining prominence on campus.

Some, like SA Executive Vice President Ted Costigan, believe that certain fees amount to a higher cost than the cost of the service it covers, such as the former 9 cent printing fee or the still-in-place $550 to $6,150 study abroad fee.

Making the community pay so many of these extra charges reduces student satisfaction for the University and damages its image. And while there is no easy solution to the fee issue, the University should make the distribution of fees more transparent, and begin to find a long-term solution for covering the cost of these charges.

Extra fees cause anger and frustration for many, as students and families often complain of being nickel-and-dimed throughout their time at GW. It can be exasperating that these fees come in addition to one of the most expensive tuition costs in the country.

But what is the University to do? Clearly administrators are in a bind. It is impossible to simply eliminate all fees, given that they are often necessary to cover certain services. It would be difficult for the University to hold science laboratories and provide students with sufficient learning tools if we didn’t pay a $60 fee covering that equipment.

On the other hand, lumping fees into tuition will raise the sticker price of the University, something that makes administrators justifiably wary. And it would be difficult to fairly calculate fees into students’ tuition, as some students end up needing more services than others.

But the presence of fees for services such as $50 for technology use or $160 for University Police Department presence at student organization events seems shocking.

Calling for a review of how to provide fee-requiring services in a more efficient manner is a good place to start. All across higher education, universities are attempting to operate with more efficiency to drive down soaring costs and expenses, an idea most recently championed by United States President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address. By operating more efficiently, universities can trim down budget fat and re-allocate resources.

When the University embarks on a large capital fundraising campaign this June, why not recruit donations to cover the costs of some fees? Yes, donating for fees is certainly not as appealing as funding a building or a scholarship, but a small amount of money will go a long way in covering some of these burdensome costs.

But for the short term, the University should take the Student Association’s push for fee transparency seriously. Students should be provided with as comprehensive a list as possible of fees students might incur during college. Allowing students and their families to understand where fees originate and why they are necessary will go a long way in establishing a bond of trust between the University and its students on this issue.

The University needs to be transparent and engage the community regarding fees. Otherwise it will be in danger of being seen as uncaring about a principal student concern. And that’s a much tougher image issue to address.

Doug Cohen, a junior majoring in political science, is the Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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