January 16, 2014

Today, President Obama convenes a “Summit” on higher education access and affordability. Given that theme, I thought it would be appropriate to hear one student’s perspective.

Celia Perez is an adult, a single parent, an employee, and someone with ambition to get a get a bachelor’s and, eventually, a graduate degree.  Seeing online education as an affordable option, she became frustrated with many of the fees she is expected to pay.  She found my blog post “Should Online Courses Cost Less, It Doesn’t Just Happen” and contacted me about this issue. I invited her to share her story.  While you might be able to determine which institution she attends, I did not mean to single it out. You could probably find a similar story in nearly every state and province in North America.  I applaud Celia for being willing to be vocal about her concerns.
Russ Poulin

Photo of Celia Perez, author of the post.
Celia Perez, online student concerned about fees that she feels are “unsupported.”


Several years ago when I began my educational journey, I knew that the cost of college tuition and attendance would always be the highest ticket item I would ever purchase in my life and the most rewarding. Knowing what lay ahead of me I tailored my lifestyle to balance family, work, and school life. Meeting the financial obligations of all three areas seemed to be easily done with strong organizational and time management skills.

After successfully completing an Associate of Arts degree without grants, or financial aid, I decided to wait on continuing to a bachelors degree (and eventually a graduate degree) until I had saved enough to cover costs over and beyond what financial aid would offer.  It was at this crossroad that my family status changed to single parent and I realized my education would remain on hold for many years until I was financially eligible for higher education.

The Promise of Online Education
However, finding online educational sources opened up a window of opportunity which didn’t exist while I was sitting at the crossroads working full time for many years. I was told that online would allow flexibility to work around the full-time schedule and at a reduced cost due to the student paying for internet, electricity (being at home vs. classroom), and not having to participate in the on-campus programs nor utilizing student services. Being online for me meant I could work during my lunch hour then get back online right after dinner.

Then I Hit the Fee Barrier
However, that dream was cut short when a menu of fees were established and approved to offset university education expenses. With over $500 required in new fees per class per semester, my future education was now in jeopardy. As a single parent, and living on a fixed income, my education budget was not prepared for the exorbitant fees such as: special class fee, I-course fee, recreation, and student program fees (on campus services).

More importantly, not one university department notified students of the new fee billing system. For online courses I was billed for on-campus services and duplicate online service fees such as (descriptions from the university website):

Special I-Course Fee: Special Class, Hybrid and iCourse fees are assessed based on enrollment in specific classes.

Student Programs Fee: All students are assessed a mandatory program facility fee as authorized by the <<State’s>> Board of Regents to provide funding for new or enhanced facilities and student support programming

Student Services Facility Fee: The Student Service Facility Fee is a mandatory fee authorized by the  <<State’s>> (From Russ: Note that I removed reference to the state.)  Board of Regents to be charged to all students. This fee will allow for the enhancements of existing facilities and the planning and development of new student service facilities to meet the needs of the growing student population.

Technology Fee– The technology fee funds technology initiatives including expanding <<the institution’s>> wireless network on all of its campuses, increasing the number of technology-enabled classrooms, developing a system to allow students to access University-licensed software, reducing dependence on computing labs and expanding and improving online self-service environment. All students are assessed this mandatory technology fee as authorized by the <<State’s>> Board of Regents.

Recreation Fee:  All students are assessed a recreation fee allowing access to recreation facilities on all <<of the State’s>> Campuses. For more information, please visit Campus Recreation. Faculty/staff who are also students are not assessed a recreation center fee with their other registration fees, but may pay an optional fee at faculty/staff rates.

Special Class Fee: Special Class, Hybrid and iCourse fees are assessed based on enrollment in specific classes; Special class fees and deposits for various purposes are defined below.  Fees and deposits may not be imposed except under the following definitions, and in every case must be imposed only for expenses that are necessary for the successful completion of the course objectives.

<<Russ:  I snipped items 1-3 in the list as they were not pertinent>>

4.      Technology Expense Fees:  Technology expenses must be course-specific, beyond the normally expected basic services, to be defined by each university.

For online student instruction, fees for on-campus services are not appropriate and should NOT be automatically assessed. The only fee which makes sense is the echnology Fee, which appears to be duplicated in the Special Class Fee. If fees are the new trend, then just as tuition was the normal fee assessed to college students for attending, then colleges and universities could charge a flat fee once per term. This way, the student is appropriately charged the “online fee” or “on-campus fee.”

And Some of the Services Were Lacking
The online services at my college are also not on par with those offered on-campus. For example, online tutoring should be easy and inexpensive by using one’s email. However, the tutoring I have been given is limited to one hour per week via a complicated school Blackboard system.  At one point, I was told not to use email and to go to the on-campus tutoring center.  When did email go offline????  Eventually, the tutors accepted email questions since it was an online class.

My Request
The rising assessment of multiple fees for online higher education is questionable. For example, when the cost of a college degree used to include: tuition, registration, and the health fee, a student now pays for fees that are meant for the physical infrastructure (student programs, recreation, student service facility), along with technology (lectures on powerpoint), i-course (technology labeled differently), and books that are not used.  In reality, the majority of these fees are not for instruction.

Although my story is typical of thousands of adult students, through this blog post I want to call to students, academic representatives, Boards of Regents, and Legislators to lobby for change. Today we face the risk of handing over business to talent overseas. While many of us cannot continue paying excessive costs for education, our country simply looks to other countries for their PhD’s.  At best, online students must work together to take action and make changes to outdated school funding formulas and lack of a fee waiver process, which create inequities between affluent and poor communities.

Despite the unsupported fee charges, I have to move on and borrow the funds to complete a bachelor’s degree. My dream of a master’s degree is completely cancelled as I do not have employment guaranteed to pay loans back in this world of unemployment.

The overall cuts in higher education funding have severely cut the right to an education desperately needed in the United States.  The cuts will soon eliminate America’s founding belief that only an educated citizenry can preserve democracy and safeguard individual liberty and freedom.

Respectfully yours,
Celia Perez

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