Remote learners at Binghamton University have been voicing their complaints about being required to pay for broad-based fees in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many aspects of peoples’ lives have been affected by the pandemic, resulting in a number of students choosing to take part in an online-only semester which allows BU students to take remote classes from home. The online-only program has inhibited some remote students from the traditional manner of using University services.
Students that have decided to stay home this semester have been left to pay for services they have no access to, from campus shuttles and Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) to the outdoor track and bike share. Student have also had to pay the intercollegiate athletic fee. Many University fees, however, have been reduced for this fall semester when compared to the spring semester.
Broad-based fees include an array of services, such as a college fee, transportation fee, recreation fee, intercollegiate athletic fee and campus life fee. Some fees are below $20 while some are above $200. Since the start of the semester, BU students have been posting their frustrations and confusion over their inability to be exempt from paying broad-based fees on the social networking site Reddit, under the thread r/BinghamtonUniversity.
The confusion mainly surrounds the broad-based fee waiver form, made available online by the BU Budget Office, that a number of remote students filled out and submitted. Erin Neske, director of budget and finance, explained the fee waiver form can only be approved for students that are a part of an “exclusively online” program who have no intention of learning on campus.
“Eligibility is evaluated for each student request on the basis of [their] degree program of study,” Neske wrote in an email. “Alternatively, students choosing to attend class remotely remain enrolled in their traditional degree program of study and have access to all [BU] services, which have been restructured to accommodate the pandemic and expanded for accessibility by in-person and remote students.”
Those who did not enroll into an online-only program upon entering BU are not eligible for the refund. If a student is online-only for just this semester, they are part of the BingFlex program, which is not an exclusively online-only program. Some University services have been switched to an online format.
Jhaeline Molina, a sophomore majoring in biology, said the access to services are limited.
“I was told that my submission was declined because I am not in an exclusively online degree program, and, to get those fees waived, I had to be,” Molina wrote. “Since I am enrolled in a ‘traditional degree program,’ regardless of whether the instruction was in-person or [remote], I had to pay those fees because they were approved by SUNY and [New York State Education Department].”
Benjamin Helwa, a sophomore majoring in biology, feels that the fees are not fair to impose on students.
“I feel that the added fees are not fair to people who are not obtaining these extra amenities,” Helwa wrote. “[They] are not being used by most students who are home, and [students] that are on campus have been closed off from extra resources.”
Molina also said she was unhappy with the requirement of funding BU’s athletic programs during this time.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we have to pay for the intercollegiate athletics fee, especially since sports were canceled,” Molina said. “Why do we have to pay for a fee that covers the expenses of a program that is not even having games this semester? Not only should fully remote students not have to pay for them, but on campus students too.”
Neske has responded to these concerns in saying that broad-based fees are not assessed based on use, but on enrollment. Because of this, Helwa felt the University should rethink the structuring of its fees.
“I think [BU] needs to find some resolution to all these added fees,” Helwa said. “People are [being hit] hard during the pandemic, and these extra fees aren’t reducing the stress on students and parents.”