Course fee elimination possible in fall 2009

By Timothy Bearden

As the national credit dilemma comes to a head, Columbia is looking for alternative ways to not only cut costs, but help students pay for their education.

Jennifer Waters, executive director of Student Financial Services, said the college will be raising tuition, but course fees will be eliminated from student expenses for fall 2009.

“The elimination of the course fees was very important,” Waters said. “Everyone has committed to that. It was a three-year plan in the making.”

Waters said the board of trustees still has to finalize the idea of eliminating course fees, but it has been planned to take effect next fall along with a slight increase in tuition-historically under 5 percent-which also has to be approved. The percentage increase is still pending approval by the board of trustees. Waters said it’s part of the second phase of a larger budget plan. The first phase was the memo Columbia President Warrick L. Carter sent out on Oct. 15.

“The elimination of course fees is going to be absorbed by the budget, which is why we decreased a lot of the spending immediately,” Waters said.

She said a $5 million hole in the budget will have to be taken from other places but wasn’t sure where it would come from.

The Student Government Association has been working with the college for more transparency in the course fees. Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said the SGA also has to approve the elimination.

Jessica Valerio, the SGA president, said the senate has been working on this task for a few years. She is the fourth president assigned to the task.

“Louise Love came to the meeting on [Oct. 21] and said there is a resolution plan in the works. She said it was too high up to talk about and was not at liberty to give that information,” Valerio said. “She said to be patient and [that] we’d be very happy with what came out.”

Valerio said she wasn’t sure what Love, the vice president of Academic Affairs, was talking about, but thought it might be course fees. She was apprehensive when she heard they would be eliminated. Valerio said they weren’t working for the elimination of course fees, just more transparency as to what they were toward.

“The statement that course fees will be eliminated-that could be one of many things,” Valerio said. “If they’re eliminated all together, they have to be picked up somewhere else. If that were in tuition dollars, I probably wouldn’t be too happy. There’s truth in me saying I hope that’s not the actual plan.”

Columbia is a tuition-based school, in the sense that most of the financing from the college comes from the money paid by the students to attend the institution. In the memo Carter issued on Oct. 15, he stated that a lull in tuition payments, due to the economic climate of the nation, could affect the college’s budget.

“We do not know yet to what effect, if any, [the economic situation] will have on the ability of students and their parents to pay for college expenses,” Carter said in the memo. “Although there are no indications that tuition payments will be delayed, it is prudent for the college to reduce its spending, at this time to position ourselves for any unforeseen slowness in tuition payments.”

Waters said the budget already allows between $6 million and $7 million for instances where students haven’t paid or are slow to pay their tuition.

Columbia costs a little under $18,000 per year for students-not including housing-up almost 5 percent from the 2007-2008 school year. Micki Leventhal, director of media relations for Columbia, said the college continues to look for other ways to help students finance their education.

“We have what we’ve always had, and I imagine that [will be] ongoing,” Leventhal said. “The administration will continue to look at ways we can help students. Nothing has changed in terms of what we have available.”

Columbia has the least amount of grants and scholarships on average of all Chicago colleges, offering only $2,010 per student as of 2005-2006 in grants and scholarships, according to a study by Chicago magazine.

Colleges like DePaul University have higher tuition, but almost half of the tuition can be covered by grants and scholarships provided by the institution. In some cases, the discounted tuition is cheaper than Columbia’s highly publicized inexpensive tuition.

John Holden, media relations director for DePaul, said tuition costs for the 2008 school year at his university are approximately $25,000, but as stated in that same study, the school has about $10,000 available in grants and scholarships for many students. At DePaul, a little more than 50 percent of students receive school financial aid, whereas at Columbia, only 18 percent of students receive school-funded aid.

Steve Kapelke, the provost and senior vice president at Columbia, said the college is looking at alternative sources of funding for students, but nothing is concrete yet.

“It’s too early to make any comment on tuition just yet,” Kapelke said. “We’re very aware of the issue students face right now, and we’re going to address it any way we can.”

An article written in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported some colleges are looking to pull from their endowment to help students fund their education. Columbia has taken a hit as a result of the economic crisis, citing at least a $24 million loss at the college as of Oct. 4. Kapelke is not sure if the college will follow in the footsteps of other institutions.

“At this time, we do not have a plan to use money from our endowments,” Kapelke said. “We are, however, looking into all of our options and not ruling anything out yet.”

Another matter affecting students is that lenders have tightened their restrictions and qualifications for obtaining loans. Waters said while this is true, most students have obtained loans for the whole year and the financial institutions in need of assistance will still honor the loans already granted for the students.

“Ninety percent of the private loans that were certified for this year are certified for the entire academic year,” Waters said. “People who are already in the system are pretty safe.”

Waters said the students who have yet to apply for loans are going to be the ones who have the most problems. She said if any students have questions about their financing, they should visit the financial aid office and talk with an adviser.

For information about loans, tuition payments or to get on a payment plan, contact the Student Financial Services Office at (866) 705-0200 and schedule an appointment with an adviser.