CU-Boulder student fees rank high in Pac-12
As percentage of total cost, CU second only to Oregon State
By Whitney Bryen, For the Camera
This fall, undergraduates at the University of Colorado will pay some of the highest student fees in the newly expanded Pac-12 Conference -- and could top the list by 2013 when they start getting charged for a massive renovation of the Boulder campus's Recreation Center.
Student fees will make up 16.2 percent of the total academic costs for full-time, in-state undergraduates at CU during the 2011-2012 year. Undergrads can expect to pay about $7,672 for tuition next year, plus at least $1,479.92 in mandatory student fees -- not including course, departmental or new-student fees which vary per student, according to the registrar.
Oregon State University tops the Pac-12, with student fees making up 19.6 percent of the total cost for resident, full-time undergraduates. The University of Oregon is third, with student fees comprising 14.1 percent of the total cost. Arizona State University is the lowest with 5.2 percent of the total cost going to student fees.
CU Regent Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, said the rising cost of college is becoming a disconcerting trend -- not only among the CU campuses, but across the state.
"I think public higher education should be affordable to any student and every student," said Neguse, who, in April, opposed CU's 9.3 percent tuition hike. "I felt ultimately like we weren't doing enough to protect middle class and that's why I voted no on the tuition increase."
The rich will be able to afford the increasing costs and low-income students will qualify for aid, though it may not pay for all of their costs, Neguse said. But the middle class risks being "squeezed out," he added.
It's a notion echoed by CU student Dan Haught.
"College should be accessible to everyone, and the constant push to increase tuition (and fees) makes it tougher for the average person to attend," said Haught, who voted against the Rec Center fee increase, calling the renovation "a luxury, not a necessity."
CU's student activity fee of $680.44 annually is the largest overall in the Pac-12 and is distributed by the CU Student Government to operate the Boulder campus's University Memorial Center, Wardenburg Health Center and Recreation Center, plus various student groups. This year, $191.56 of that student activity fee will be allocated to the Rec Center to pay for maintenance, access and existing bonds from past projects.
Carly Robinson, the CU Student Government's vice president of internal affairs, said fees at CU are largely a reflection of the lack of state funding, which has forced the university to pass costs along to students.
Colorado is 48th in the nation in state and local support for higher ed per capita, according to GreatEducation.org.
"It really has to do with state funding and the way our government is set up," Robinson said. "It's hard to explain the costs to students and parents, but it also gives students more of a voice because we (the student government) are controlling more funds then other schools."
CU's student leaders long have boasted they run the largest student government in the country, based on their annual budget, which currently sits at $37 million.
But Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, said that while the CU Student Government controls a large sum compared to other schools, the University of California at Los Angeles' student government is the biggest, with a budget of about $80 million.
Mandatory fees at CU actually will "decrease this year from the previous year for the first time ever," Robinson said.
Students will pay $12.78 less in mandatory fees this year then last year due to a decrease in the student activity fee, thanks to budget cuts made by student leaders. But fees will increase again in 2013 with the addition of the new Rec Center fee approved by the CU regents last week.
Initially approved by students in April, the fee increase of nearly $250 per student, per year for 25 years will support a $63.5 million renovation.
Beginning in the fall of 2013, students will pay the renovation fee in addition to the existing student fee, minus adjustments to the prior bonds, for a total of $417.70 per year for the Rec Center, which -- barring fee increases at other schools -- could give CU students the highest mandatory fees in the Pac-12, around $1,706.06 per year.
With the exception of Oregon State University, all of the Pac-12 schools have a recreation-center fees ranging from $36.52 per year at the University of Utah to $294 per year at Washington State University. Some schools, including Washington State University and the University of Washington, are paying off bonds for renovations, while others are maintenance or access fees.
All of the public universities in the conference currently are paying for previous or future work to be done to their recreation centers, according to research gathered by the CU Rec Center staff. While each school receives funding from different sources, all 10 public universities in the conference are passing at least some of the cost on to students through fees, the research shows.
'Every dollar matters'
Regent Neguse said that as a proponent of self-governance, he voted for the Rec Center fee increase at Wednesday's meeting because it was approved by students. Neguse said he wants to continue listening to the student voice on matters, including fee increases, but he will be watching the student government this year to ensure it is using its "authority responsibly by being inclusive."
Oxendine, of the American Student Government Association, said it's common for students to accept fee increases, even large amounts, because they often see the cost of college in bulk and not as individual fees.
"Every dollar matters to students who pay their own way -- let's be honest, if it's coming out of your pocket, you're looking at every dollar," Oxendine said. "But for students getting loans or grants, it doesn't matter as much because it has to be paid."
CU junior Tyler Thompson said his parents are paying for the majority of his tuition and fees, and while all of the individual fees are mandatory, he also believes they are necessary to maintain high quality campus facilities.
"I think the construction and renovation is needed to keep CU competitive," Thompson said. "Facilities get a lot of attention for drawing athletes, but I think they also help to attract students and professors."
CU's next highest student fees are the annual $400 capital construction fee, which paid for the construction of five campus buildings, and the annual $156 student bus and bike program fee.
About half of the Pac-12 schools have building or construction fees similar to CU listed as part of their mandatory fees, according to their bursars' websites. Nearly all of them have a transportation fee.
The University of Southern California and Stanford University, the only private schools in the Pac-12, do not break down student fees the same way as public universities. The estimated costs for the coming year for an undergraduate, including fees, is $42,818 at USC and $40,050 at Stanford, according to their registrars' websites.
In terms of raw numbers -- and not as a percentage of the total cost -- University of California at Berkeley students pay the highest amount annually -- $1,614.50 -- in student fees, with CU coming in third behind Oregon State University. Arizona State University students are paying the least in the conference at $508 annually.
Eric Suhren, a senior at Arizona State, said he's glad his student fees are low in comparison to the other schools, especially because ASU's tuition recently was raised. But low fees don't mean a lot when the overall cost of college is still expensive or out of reach for some students.
"I view it according to the overall cost rather than the individual items," Suhren said.
As a Marine veteran, Suhren gets his college paid for by the G.I. Bill, but said without some kind of aid, loans, grants or scholarships, many students would not be able to afford the costs and dropping one or two individual fees would not make it affordable.
Non-resident undergraduates are paying a lower percentage of fees compared to their overall annual cost, because their tuition rates are higher. But the mandatory fee charges are the same as those for residents at most schools.
Out-of-state students at CU can expect to pay around $28,850 for the 2011-2012 year, with $1,479.92 -- or 4.9 percent -- going toward fees, the third highest in the conference. Fees make up about 7.1 percent of the total cost for non-resident undergraduates at Oregon State University, making it the highest in the conference.
And Washington State is second with about 6.5 percent of the total out-of-state cost going to fees.
Approximately 2.3 percent of the cost for non-resident undergraduates at University of Washington and Arizona State University are allocated to fees, the lowest in the conference.