Share This Page

Course load: Fees are inflating cost of colleges in Pennsylvania

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 11:15 p.m.
Deb Erdley | Tribune-Review
Students at Slippery Rock pay a $198.50 a semester fee to underwrite the university’s new Robert M. Smith Student Center. A waterfall tumbles into a pebble-lined eternity pool the center that features a 303-seat theater inside.
Deb Erdley | Tribune-Review
For $87 a semester Slippery Rock students can access the Aebersold Student Recreation Center. The 82,000 square-foot facility includes an aquatic center, climbing wall, five multi-purpose sport courts and 200-meter track as well as a Fitness Center which features cardiovascular machines and plate loaded and free weights.

State universities and community colleges often are the lowest-cost option for higher education in Pennsylvania, but student fees are inflating costs even at those institutions.

Under pressure from the state to mute tuition increases, institutions are adding fees and jacking up ones for technology services, student activities and buildings such as recreation, sports and health centers.

Fees remain a small part of the equation, but in some instances, they are increasing faster than tuition. And it is not unusual for mandatory fees to add as much as 20 percent to 30 percent on top of the cost of tuition.

“Frankly, (fees) are filling a gap,” said Michelle Fryling, spokewoman for Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

At IUP, where full-time students paid $3,214 a semester for tuition last year, seven mandatory fees for student activities, wellness, technology, registration, transportation, instruction and student services, brought the bill to $4,335.80.

The most recent addition: a $108-a-semester student services fee added in the fall of 2011 pays for career services, advising and student conduct programs.

“We are committed to keeping these services for students, and that is the way we've come up with funding them,” Fryling said.

Anne Gross, of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, said that is a common refrain at public institutions faced with shrinking state support. Changes in the federal tax code and increasing efforts to tell students exactly what they're paying for are driving the proliferation of fees, she said.

When establishing tuition-based federal tax credits, Congress determined that costs for recreation centers, sports facilities and health centers couldn't be included in the figure eligible for the credit.

“The colleges figured if they had to subtract them out, they might as well charge for them separately,” she said.

In Pennsylvania, state-owned schools can't pay for student recreation centers and student unions with tuition money.

California University of Pennsylvania spells out what eight mandatory fees totaling $1,293 a semester cover and why they are charged on top of $3,214 in tuition.

“We try to be as up-front as possible with our families,” said university spokeswoman Christine Kindl.

The board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which sets tuition at the 14 state-owned universities, including California, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities, also sets fees for technology service and academic enhancement. Last year, all 14 schools had a $179-a-semester technology fee plus an academic fee capped at 10 percent of tuition, or about $320.

Fees at some schools pay off projects approved when many incoming freshmen were still in middle school.

Slippery Rock University's website notes that students in 1994 approved a fee, now $87 a semester, to fund the construction and operation of the Aebersold Student Recreation Center.

Thomas Glosser, 21, a Slippery Rock senior majoring in criminology, cringes to think he's paid fees for facilities he has never used, including the school's health center, which carried a $145-a-semester fee last year.

“Why would I go to the health center when I have my own doctor? I think you should be able to opt out of those fees,” Glosser said.

Fellow Slippery Rock senior, Meagan Michael Little, 32, of Greenville said she doesn't mind “paying a little extra to have a nice college. If a college doesn't have a good gym and a good library, people look at it a little differently when you say you went there.”

While recreation centers may be a draw for students, Michael Poliakoff, vice president of the American Council of Alumni and Trustees, said schools should weigh such projects carefully.

“Just how crucial to someone's education is a recreation center?” he asked.

Like the public universities, Pennsylvania's community colleges cite stagnant public subsidies and increasing costs as driving up fees.

At the Community College of Allegheny County, a student taking 10 credits next fall and paying $997.50 in tuition will have to pay an extra $267 in fees.

Jennifer Diminnie, of Homestead, 26, a nursing student at CCAC, said the technology fee, scheduled to increase from $12 per credit to $18.25 next fall, is costly, but at least CCAC provides high-quality computers and lets students print documents at no additional cost.

“That's nice. I've gone to other schools where everything you print out costs,” she said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.