Course fees renamed, restructured

By Lauren Kelly

To address student concerns surrounding the effective use of course fees, Columbia has constructed a new system to better handle the additional costs of classes.

The new plan will go into effect for the fall 2009 semester and will completely change the current system that determines how much students will pay in additional fees per course aside from tuition credit hour costs.

Some things that are usually paid for with these fees include guest speakers, computer supplies, film processing and development equipment, laboratory supplies and printing services.

The costs, renamed as instructional resources fees, will charge every class in a department with the same flat fee instead of determining a different fee for each class, which is how the system is currently structured.

“Rather than trying to break [the cost of fees] down by course, we tried to decide what would be the best way, the most efficient and transparent way, to deal with the ancillary fees that courses generated,” said Steve Kapelke, provost and senior vice president.

The resulting system divides departments into four categories, called “tiers,” based on the relative levels of extra resource requirements. Every three-credit class offered through a certain department will have the same cost. The fee applied to the departments is based on the past three years of spending, and many courses, about 35 percent of them collegewide, will have no fee at all.

“We wanted something that was easy to understand by the students, easy to administer; it was predictable, and also we wanted to get to a place where more of the courses we offer have no fees,” said John Wilkin, assistant vice president of Budget Management.

The courses that will require no fee include one-credit courses, graduate level courses and courses in all departments classified in the first tier. Consisting of departments with the lowest costs-the Humanities, History, Social Sciences, Marketing Communications, English and New Millennium Studies departments-classes in the first tier will carry no fees for any class.

For a standard two-to-four-credit course, departments included in the second tier will charge $40 per class, $70 for the third tier and $115 for the fourth tier classes (see our graphic on opposite page). Five-to-six-credit courses will cost double; therefore, the most a student will pay for a fee will be $230 in instructional resources fees, whereas under the old system, fees could cost as much as $415.

Crosslisted courses will charge the lower of the two possible fees.

The Student Government Association has been a main force in advocating for a more clear and understandable course fee policy for students.

“Students not only have the right, but an obligation and a responsibility to make their voices heard,” Kapelke said.

Before distributing a press release and making announcements on The Loop system to inform the college, Kapelke and Wilkin, along with Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, visited the senate on March 17 to seek their approval of the new policy.

The instructional resource fee system has passed through several levels of the administration, Wilkin said. Also, he said the department chairs were generally supportive and approved of the new policy, as discussed in a meeting.

One senator at the meeting asked if a screenwriting course offered through the Film and Video Department, which requires very little extra equipment, will have the same course fee as a production or editing class that would require more use of equipment and materials. Under this new policy, all classes in the departments will carry the same fee regardless of the resources it will use.

The new instructional resource fees will replicate the $4.5 million that was generated by the old course fees system and will not make the college any extra money, Wilkin said.

Minimal costs for courses that charge no fee will be made up elsewhere in what Kapelke termed an “aggregate” system, where all the small parts make up a larger whole.

Columbia has also recently purchased $2.2 million worth of electronic equipment for student use.

But rather than having students pay for all of those costs at once next year in course fees, Kapelke said they decided to depreciate the costs over four years, the expected average lifetime of the equipment.

The new system of instructional resource fees simply moves the money around in a different system in order for the expenses to be understood more clearly by not just students, but by faculty, administrators and parents.

“What we have now is students can predict how much it’s going to cost,” Kelly said. “Before, there was no direct correlation between that particular course fee and that course. There was a correlation between that and overall instruction, but over time we’ve really gotten out of sync between the course fee and that course.”

Kapelke said the correlation between a course fee and the resources students received from it used to be very direct. But with Columbia’s rapid growth, “we simply outpaced our ability to make good decisions about the course fees themselves and make sure all faculty and students are informed about what those fees are and how they’re going to be used,” he said.

Institutional resource fees will be reexamined in three years, Kelly said, and again every three subsequent years, with any necessary changes then being made. A brief overview of the new instructional resource fees policy will appear in the 2009-10 Informer handbooks this fall.