Fees Boost College Cost; Students Pay Extra for Rec Centers, Certain Courses, Information Technology

Article excerpt

When prospective students tour the University of Missouri-St. Louis, they invariably ask to see the gym or recreation center. And that makes the tour guides cringe just a little.

It's not that UMSL doesn't have one. It's just that the dingy Mark Twain Center is sort of a pale imitation of what's found on most college campuses today. The jogging track isn't elevated. There's no rock climbing wall. No whirlpool. And there's no juice bar dispensing tasty smoothies.

"It's not something we like to showcase," said Alan Byrd, the school's dean of enrollment services. "For a school of 16,000 students, it doesn't meet our needs."

But things will be changing soon, with work already started on a $36 million wellness center that will figure prominently in campus tours once it opens in 2015.

It won't, however, be cheap.

Students, whether they use it or not, will pay as much as $231 a semester - based on the number of credit hours they take - to support the center. And while it might seem strange at a time when so much attention is focused on the cost of college, this is something students volunteered to do.

In a campus referendum this year, they voted overwhelmingly, 2- to-1, to bill themselves in the name of fitness.

Jericah Selby, the former UMSL student government president who is now attending law school at the University of Denver, sees the rec center as a next step in the school's evolution. But she's not expecting miracles.

"I'm not thinking our admission numbers are going to skyrocket," Selby said. "But it's something to satisfy a need for students on campus."

And as Byrd says, "One thing about students, they are willing to pay for things they want."

Across the nation, fees such as this are contributing to what parents and students see as the soaring cost of a college degree. Along with hourly tuition rates, students pay a host of add-ons - many of them mandatory - that include information technology fees, student activity fees, athletics fees, supplemental course fees, health service fees, student union fees and transportation fees.

"It's a way to raise tuition and mask it," said Richard Hesel of the Art & Science Group, a higher education consulting firm in Baltimore. "I suspect it's actually a strategy at a lot of public institutions."

Hesel and others say fees are one way that schools are coping with dwindling support from state governments, as more of the cost of education is shifted to universities and their students. It's a bigger issue at public institutions, where tuition generally is regulated.

In a sense, some of these fees act as a form of differential tuition - the practice of charging some students more for their education. Simply put, some degrees are costlier to provide than others. Nursing, for example, requires a lot of expensive lab time, while English majors require very little in the way of course extras.

So as costs go up for some of the pricier degree fields, schools have decisions to make. And increasingly, they're hitting students in those areas of study with supplemental fees, said Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

"The alternative would be to raise the average tuition," Ehrenberg said. "Politically, that's more difficult."

There are, however, downsides to differential pricing, because it effectively makes some degrees less obtainable than others, said Sandy Baum, an independent higher education policy analyst.

"Are you going to discourage low-income students from enrolling in high-priced programs?" Baum asked.

MU's BUSINESS FEE

Since 2002, the University of Missouri has added or expanded 20 supplemental fees at its four campuses, including a business school course fee at its flagship campus in Columbia, a supplemental fee for physics at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla and a theater and dance fee at UMSL. …