Nearly a week into our two-week shutdown, it would be safe to assume that many Binghamton University students are anxiously wondering whether or not BU will open back up. Some will also be considering vacating their current residence and returning home. With the threat of the University refunding housing if we remain closed, this could prove to only further stress the financial relationship between BU and its students.
When the fall 2020 semester began, there was immediate concern over the broad-based fees paid by students every semester. The fees are numerous and the money paid for them is allocated throughout the University and its programs, but students still deserve to know when and how those fees change — especially in the midst of a pandemic and economic hardship.
Athletics fees have been reduced by 36 percent, which is a hefty cut. Upon more consideration, this is an admirable gesture, as athletics have already taken a loss of revenue from ticket sales, as well as the loss of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) revenue sharing, and there is still money needed to maintain facilities and pay faculty. Housing fees have also been reduced by 17 percent, which will hopefully ease some of the financial burden on students and their families. The Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) program-related fees haven’t been reduced, which makes sense as it is a program that many rely on. However, those living remotely may not be accessing the program and with a now-reduced schedule, there are a few questions as to whether or not students will receive refunds if we remain shut down. Technology-related fees have increased, most likely due to the nature of remote learning, and some international students are paying fees for services like counseling, which they are essentially unable to access. There are some fees that have still yet to be reduced at all, with no reasons as to why.
While there is a page on the University website dedicated to the explanation of certain fees charged, it is not a page widely advertised to students, and the descriptions of several charges are still vague. The administration could update the page to reflect the most accurate use of student payments, or they could actively notify students every semester rather than tuck the page out of sight.
Recently, “Bearcat Chats,” weekly digital conversations set up by the University, have become a staple of our time in this pandemic. This platform could be used to begin actually discussing BU’s financial habits and decisions with students in a more open, public forum. Here, the administration could explain where our money is being spent, what fees are being cut or increased and the reasons behind their decisions.
The activity fees we pay as students go directly to the Student Association (SA), and as of now, there hasn’t been a reduction in their cost. Despite student group activities being severely restricted, students are still paying for an experience they are unable to fully receive. While the SA has assisted on campus, specifically by meeting with BU President Harvey Stenger regarding resident assistants (RAs) and their duties, they have made few concrete statements to the student body regarding finance.
For those believing, as offered by the University, that they could study remotely and apply to have their broad-based fees waived, the truth has been quite a let down. After applying, students will receive a denial notification, stating that in order to be considered for this waiver, they must have been enrolled in an entirely online degree program. Only those studying exclusively online from the beginning of their academic careers, long before the pandemic was even a thought in most people’s minds, would be eligible. Students asked for more financial support and to tempt them with a refund option that they never would’ve received seems tantalizingly cruel. Students should’ve been given clear definitions and parameters of “remote” and “online” coursework so they knew exactly where they stood. Using vague definitions as a scapegoat serves to help the administration and hurt students. Leaving these options ambiguous further implies that the University had no intentions of complete honesty with its students.
Students have been, and still are, deeply affected by the pandemic, especially in matters of finance. We absolutely understand that, even in a pandemic, all fees cannot be waived at the drop of a hat, especially when a school is in a financial hardship as bad as BU is right now. Operating under the assumption that we open back up, BU needs to be honest with students. This is the message for the administration time and time again and it isn’t easy, but it must be done. Students and their families are hurting and BU must remember that not all students receive financial assistance from family, can afford to not work or even just have the money to spend lightly. Students have a right to know what decisions are being made with their money — they are the ones truly keeping BU afloat.