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New and increasing fees surprise students



For Matt Tofte, the University of Oregon was the right price. When he received his financial aid award letter one year ago, the incoming freshman estimated payment for tuition and fees at $9,258, including $433 in fees per term. Compared to out-of-state schools and combined with the presidential scholarship he received, the price tag helped make Oregon the obvious choice.@@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Matt*Tofte@@ @@http://financialaid.uoregon.edu/12_13_cost_of_attendance@@

However, the increasing number of new fees and the rising cost of existing ones was not displayed in Tofte’s estimated costs. With the addition of two new fees to be exacted in the next two years, by 2015, Tofte will likely be paying $540 per term. That’s if the existing fees remain the same. If they continue to increase — which is possible — the price could be nearly $560 per term.

That would be an extra $381 per year in fees alone compared to the estimated costs Tofte received when he decided to attend the UO. With the rising price of tuition, the cost of attendance could skyrocket.

Tofte’s total cost of attendance including those extra fees is still less than what he would have paid at an out-of-state institution and it won’t make attending the UO a struggle for him. However, he said the extra $381 per year is significant.

“I could do a lot with $380,” he said. “I am lucky in contrast to other people who aren’t so lucky. There are some people where the extra cost would be prohibitive. Some people are barely making it as it is. Every dollar matters.”

Normally, the expected costs letter accurately estimates what students will pay over their time at UO, according to Vice President of  Student Affairs Robin Holmes. While fees generally increase between 3 and 5 percent per year, the increases are usually not significant over the four to five years a student is enrolled at the university. @@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Robin*Holmes@@

But total fees will rise significantly over the next two years because of the addition of two new fees to cover the costs of the Student Recreation Center and EMU remodels at $38 and $67 per term, respectively. @@http://renovation.uoregon.edu/student-recreation-centers/@@

“We’re in an anomaly period for students because these building fees are coming on as new,” Holmes said. “Four years from now, the students coming in are going to know the cost is x amount because the fees would have already been rolled out. But the next two years are a little bit of an anomaly because we have new fees coming in.”

According to Holmes, the addition of these two fees will present UO students with the highest fee price tag in the state.

“Those fees are going to load onto students fees as well,” Holmes said. “That will put us at the top of overall fees compared to the other Oregon schools.”

The UO’s fees are high in part because it has some of the most comprehensive services in the state. According to Holmes, the difference between the UO’s facilities and the facilities at other universities are like night and day. Due to the surge in enrollment in recent years, some facilities — like the SRC and the EMU — have to be updated to continue to satisfactorily serve the increased number of students.

Because fees are part of the cost of attending the UO, financial aid awards will adjust to cover them, says UO financial aid director Jim Brooks. However, fees continue to contribute to the rising cost of higher education. @@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Jim%2ABrooks@@

“Like everything else, they rise every year,” Brooks said.

Over the past three years, most fees at the UO have steadily climbed. According to data from the Oregon University System, the SRC fee has risen 12.8 percent since the 2009-2010 school year, while the Health Center fee has gone up 6.5 percent. The matriculation fee, a one-time fee that mirrors the growth of tuition, has risen 21.1 percent. Although it dropped in 2010 by 6.8 percent, UO’s incidental fee, which is operated by ASUO, rose 7.9 percent in 2012 and is proposed to rise another 4 to 5 percent next school year.

Despite the help from financial aid, the increased burden will have an effect, especially on middle-class students.

“I think that it makes it more challenging for people to be able to afford going to school,” Holmes said. “Where it becomes difficult is for the students who are in the middle, students who don’t qualify for financial aid but who are not so well off that an increase of a couple hundred dollars is no big deal. It is a big deal for many of our students.”

Although tuition and fees are not linked and cover different expenses, the administration is mindful of how the combined cost goes up. According to Brad Shelton, vice provost for budget and planning, the university tries to balance the costs to ease the burden on students.@@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Brad*Shelton@@

“At the end of the day we always look at what is the combined cost of tuition and fees, and how that has gone up because you as a student have to pay that combined cost,” Shelton said. “We do try to balance the two so the total cost is not going up too fast, but it’s a difficult balancing act since we don’t control both sides of it. We don’t control the incidental fee.”

The incidental fee, the largest fee students pay at $192 per term, is set by the ASUO and funds student programs on campus. The process is an extensive one, beginning in mid-fall and continuing through the end of winter, said ASUO program finance director Greg Mills. According to Mills, members of finance committees can spend up to 40 hours a week debating where funding should go and how to efficiently spend the budget during the busiest times. @@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Greg*Mills@@

“We do it as responsibly and with as much care as we can,” Mills said.

Despite the fee’s hefty price tag, Program Finance Committee executive appointee Andrew Lubash said that the fee’s effects are seen around campus. Without the fee, Lubash said, there would be no funding for student football tickets, Safe Ride, clubs and club sports, the operating costs for the EMU and various other programs. @@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Andrew%2ALubash@@

“Students might be concerned that they’re raising the fee 7 percent every year, that’s a lot,” Lubash said. “But if you think about everything the incidental fee does for students, the $192 they spend on the fee per term does a lot of things that are really important.”

Despite the effects of the fee, Holmes said its increases combined with the new fees soon to be enacted will definitely put a strain on students.

“In two years, the incidental fee has gone up $30. That’s a really big jump,” Holmes said. “And it’s unfortunate that it’s a jump at a time when we have these other fees like the SRC fee and EMU fee coming on. That’s really increased the overall costs for students.”

 In order to reduce that strain, Student Affairs is working to increase UO’s revenue. By encouraging more conferences — and more conference fees — to come to the UO, as well as by renting out rooms during summer camps and expanding Health Center services to faculty, Holmes hopes to bring UO revenue up and the need for student fees down. 

“I’m not saying we have this all figured out, We’re in the process of figuring it all,” Holmes said. “The more we can increase revenue the less we will rely on student fees. That’s a big part of our strategy moving forward.”

Although the rising costs are not ideal, Tofte believes strongly in the importance of student fees on campus.

“I think our funds are being used very well,” he said.

Nevertheless, Holmes still hopes the university can reduce student fees within two to four years.

“We have to because we can’t just keep raising tuition and fees,” Holmes said. “You hit a market rate and no one’s going to be able to afford to go to school here.”

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Samantha Matsumoto

Samantha Matsumoto