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Students Voice Concerns Over Proposed Fee Increases
Lewis Clark State students got a chance to air their concerns over fee hikes in a public forum on Tuesday. The hearing was scheduled to collect input before college officials take a proposal to the State Board of Education in April.
Students arrived at the Telecommunication Center in the library to offer comments, complaints and suggestions to administrators left with tough decisions about funding and programs after the state legislature and governor opted to cut higher ed funding by almost 10 percent.
College and university administrators across the state have been struggling to cope with successive cuts that followed a steep downturn in state revenue. Lewis-Clark State officials have proposed an 11.83% increase in fees to help offset a shortfall that would otherwise result in drastic cuts to programs and personnel.
The bulk of the increase will go toward the matriculation fee. The matriculation fee is an unappropriated pool used to pay for physical plant operations, student services and institutional support, including salaries.
Between 40 and 50 students filed in and out of the room during the session and many more watched the televised version provided by LC Education Technology personnel. On the panel of administrators, Dean Froehlich, Vice President for Administrative Services, Deacon Meier, Vice President for Student Affairs and Whitney Pugh, Budget Director, prepared to answer questions and gather information.
After welcoming students and restating the purpose for the hearing, Froehlich recapped the proposed fee schedule, pausing to describe the additional $142 fee for part-time or overload credit status. That amount is in keeping with the state board’s guideline for those fees to be 10% of regular full-time fees. The part-time and overload fees are expected to amount to just over $800,000 in revenue for the college, Froehlich said. He pointed out that such fees are common at other institutions and, even with the added revenue, the college will still have an approximate $900,000 bill to pay.
The proposed credit overload fee drew a good deal of attention: Several students spoke against it, saying they should not be penalized for being overachievers. Others indicated their feeling that extra credits should not be “free” as they are currently. Froehlich noted that a need to generate revenue was not the sole reason behind the decision about the fee. Meier explained how “phantom students” or “shoppers”—those who sign up for numerous classes and then drop them— often result in lost opportunities for some students unnecessarily empty seats in the classroom. He added that students overloading themselves with credits are not necessarily improving their educational experience.
Examining the petitioning process and advising regarding credit loads was suggested as one means to address the overload issue. Another option: penalizing students who sign up for excess credits and then drop the classes. Administrators agreed to take the issue under advisement; however, Froehlich reminded attendees that the $1.7 million dollar shortfall has to be made up somewhere. “We must generate dollars from student fees, or look at cutting more programs,” he said.
That equation, while simple enough in itself, has been difficult for administrators and students alike to come to terms with. LCSC President Dene Thomas has said repeatedly that “there are no easy choices, no ‘good’ cuts to make here,” and panel members echoed that sentiment as students complained about program losses coming at the same time they’re being asked to pay more.
Other questions related to the prospect of mandatory student health insurance, which the state may require soon, activity fees, funds for renovation of the Silverthorne Theater and status of the Multi-purpose Activity Center. Construction of the Activity has been on hold, pending improvement in the state’s budget picture. No increase is planned for the Silverthorne renovation fund.
Some students related personal experiences and situations they said would make it difficult, if not impossible for them to remain in school at LCSC if the new fees are implemented. Many acknowledged the tough situation administrators are in, having to implement budget cuts determined by others; however, they were passionate about not wanting to be the means to balance the education budget. One student commented, “We keep having to give more and more to support education...It just can’t keep going this way. Students just can’t keep giving.”
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