By next year, the fees Binghamton University students must pay in addition to their tuition will have increased by $76 over three years.
Though this fee increase does not seem particularly steep on the surface, the Editorial Board has a couple of concerns. Our main issue is that students don’t seem to know exactly what their money is paying for.
Every semester, students are charged a series of fees. These 14 fees cover a variety of areas related to the University, including a technology fee, a transportation fee, a student health center fee and an intercollegiate athletics fee. For the current 2018-19 academic year, the fees total $1,467, and they are projected to cost students $1,502.50 for the upcoming 2019-20 academic year. Keep in mind that the cost of these fees are piled on top of tuition, which is also projected to increase by $200 for in-state undergraduates, and room and board, which generally increases year-to-year for students living on campus.
This money may be necessary for the University to conduct its business, but it is not clear what exactly these various fees pay for. For instance, fees like the academic excellence & success fee, the college fee and the undergraduate activity fee sound particularly vague, and little description is available on BU’s website, if any at all. Students must check the SUNY website to see the breakdown, and even these explanations appear subjective. The description for the intercollegiate athletics fee, which costs $304 this year and will increase to $313 next year, states that “The Intercollegiate Athletics Fee may be established for any State-operated campus as long as it follows the strictures of policy document 3000.” Students seeking to find out exactly what the fee pays for are then turned to a lengthy document. It should not take so much research just to learn where our $304 are going.
It’s already unclear what all these fees are funding, and that makes us even more skeptical about the fee increases. The fees set to increase are the student health services fee, the technology fee, the intercollegiate athletics fee and the career resources fee. Again, what is the additional revenue from these fees funding that they do not cover already? The Editorial Board maintains that the University must be more transparent in regard to student fees, especially when proposing increases. The University has provided few reasons for the fee increases, but there is speculation that they are meant to compensate for the University’s budgetary crisis. However, we have not been given a concrete answer, indicating that perhaps even University officials are unsure.
We are especially interested in the new $15 “optional” alumni fee that was added this year. According to Kim Faber, executive director of alumni engagement, “The fee is, and always will be, optional. In response to student feedback, we have made the opt-out process easier. To request a refund, a student would simply complete a brief online form through the Alumni Association website.” Yet, if the fee is presented as an optional expense, why are students automatically charged for it? To opt out, students must fill out a form by a specific deadline, which, for this semester, was Feb. 4. The Editorial Board finds this system unnecessarily bothersome for students, who should be given the option to opt out on their bill before being charged for the fee at all.
Moreover, the Editorial Board questions the necessity of some of the fees in the first place. For example, students are charged a $5 ID card fee every year — not a huge expense. But taking into account that students who lose their ID cards are charged $20 for a replacement, what exactly is the ID card fee for? If a student does not lose their ID card over all the years of their undergraduate education, why should they be forced to pay this fee every year? In addition, some of the fees appear to overlap, bringing up the question again about transparency. Students must pay a $59 recreation fee, a $99 undergraduate activity fee and a $34 campus life fee. All of these fees sound relatively similar, and the Editorial Board would like to know exactly how they are allocated.
If BU is going to continue increasing the amount of money it demands from students, the least it can do is tell us why. The Editorial Board hopes the University will increase its transparency just as readily as it increases student fees.