Colleges boost student fees to fill gaps in state funding

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USA Today
By: Mary Beth Marklein
July 28, 2011

Colleges are tacking on mandatory student fees at a time when state funding is dwindling and public universities are trying to hold the line on tuition.

Indiana University-Bloomington is adding a $180 "temporary repair and maintenance fee" this fall; next year it doubles. Freshmen and transfer students this fall at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale will be charged a one-time $150 "matriculation fee" for orientation costs. Students at Georgia's public universities will pay 3% more in tuition, but with fees the increase jumps to an average 9% more than last year. The rise is driven primarily by a "special institutional fee" that will cost as much as $1,088 next year for some students. For Georgia Tech freshmen, all fees total $2,370 -- about a quarter of the total charge, $9,652.

The special fee, a temporary measure to help make up for budget shortfalls, "keeps the lights on. It pays the faculty. It pays for all the things that tuition pays," University System of Georgia spokesman John Millsaps says.

A USA TODAY analysis last year of athletics fees found that many NCAA Division I schools don't itemize what student fees pay for. Lawmakers in several states are demanding transparency.

Colorado, where a 2010 audit of public universities found "some fees may be higher than necessary," enacted a law this summer making it easier for students to question proposed charges. Between 2006 and 2010, fees in Colorado rose 142% vs. 69% for tuition, auditors found.

New Jersey state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, a Republican who was incensed this spring that Jersey Shore star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was paid $32,000 in student activity fees to speak at Rutgers University, proposes that state schools be required to detail on tuition bills how fees are allocated.

Beginning next month, North Dakota state universities must publish an online breakdown of how mandatory fees are spent. Legislators also have ordered a study of how fees are determined, identified and justified.

"A big part of planning for college (is) knowing how much things are going to cost," says Emily McLain, executive director of the Oregon Student Association. As a student in 2007, she and other students worked with state legislators to force the state university system to phase out a laundry list of fees by this fall. Many fees had been added more than a decade ago to get around a state-imposed tuition freeze and budget cuts, says Jay Kenton, a system vice chancellor.

For some Georgia students, there's a double whammy: Not only have legislators cut funding to universities, but they're also scaling back merit scholarships. Starting this fall, they won't cover fees.

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