Another semester is upon us, and with it, another tuition bill. Over the past few years, as we have watched the tuition and fees slowly and quietly creep higher, our understanding of the value we receive for these services has diminished. At a school boasting a great education at a great price, this is quite alarming.
I would like to begin with a few concessions, because I do not take the following criticism lightly. From my understanding, Binghamton is as transparent about the costs of its education as most other public or private universities. Furthermore, there are a myriad of complex variables contributing to the rising cost of tuition. With cuts in support from the state back in 2011, the Board of Trustees had reason to maintain the quality of the school’s faculty, programs and curriculum through modest tuition increases. Factor in the inflation of cost drivers in higher education across the board, and you can build a case for the five-year tuition plan.
That said, if you haven’t already, I encourage every student to read through the “2012-2013 Tuition and Fee Rates,” which can be found through the Binghamton University Student Accounts website. Here you will find a breakdown of student charges in relation to credit hours taken, along with a list describing the mandatory fees.
There are two key problems with this document. First, these descriptions are the furthest extent of information available (or at least readily accessible) regarding the fees, but are too brief and not clear enough to give a complete understanding of them. Second, and more importantly, the breakdown describes what our money goes toward, but not specifically how our money is spent.
One glaring example, which is more the exception than the rule, is the University Fee, which is described plainly as a mandatory fee for all SUNY students charged to all enrolled students by authority of the Board of Trustees. Student Accounts does not make even the slightest attempt to explain its function.
Similar concerns could be brought up about the other mandatory fees, which list general expenses without putting those expenses into context. Binghamton students pay an academic excellence and success fee for attending a University Center, with the funds used to provide the “resources necessary for maintaining quality academic and student success programs.” That jargon is so loose it could mean close to anything.
If our bill was broken down and put in terms of the associated budget for each fee, the school would be much more accountable for their decisions.
You may be asking yourself, and rightly so, why the University would open itself to scrutiny. Perhaps I am naïve, but the University should take this step simply because it is the right thing to do. It would be consistent with the mission of higher education as a concept.
Few people are immune to petty politics, but academia is founded on a commitment to create and disseminate information for the public good. Information is power. Students need more information at their disposal to make responsible and honest decisions about their tuition money. If the University does not respond to or work for the needs of students, if this rare breed of institution is not insulated from special interest, what kind of example is being set?
Students are the primary stakeholders of the education they pay for, so they should be afforded the knowledge of where their tuition money is going. Mandatory fees are in place for the democratic purpose of offering services to the wider campus community. Like taxes, many of these fees are inextricably required by virtue of the fact that we are students who participate in the campus experience. But unlike taxes, the college decision is not required, but rather is a voluntary decision. The school should compete for our goodwill.