One of the biggest issues facing college students is the high cost of their higher education.
The cost of tuition is thousands of dollars, forcing many students to take out loans. Additionally, for some the cost of on-campus housing raises the price tag of a college degree even higher.
But there is also an additional cost to college outside of tuition and on-campus housing that often gets overlooked: fees.
If the cost of tuition was not already enough, there seems to be a fee for everything from housing applications, to registration fees, to athletic fees, to even graduation fees.
At Missouri Western, however, this seems to be taken to another level: a per credit hour fee attached to simply enrolling in a course.
This fee, known as the undergraduate and graduate program fees adds anywhere between a $16.10 to $48.50 per credit hour fee to almost every course offered at Western. The fees are applied across disciplines and consist of the following fees:
- Applied Arts in Digital Media – $48.50 per credit hour
- Craig School of Business – $35.00 per credit hour
- Education & Human Performance – $26.70 per credit hour
- Engineering Technology – $32.90 per credit hour
- Fine Arts – $31.55 per credit hour
- Honors – $16.10 per credit hour
- Humanities – $17.65 per credit hour
- Nursing & Allied Health – $34.05 per credit hour
- Public Service – $16.70 per credit hour
- Science & Mathematics – $19.05 per credit hour
- Social Sciences – $17.10 per credit hour
- Theatre & Cinema – $48.50 per credit hour
To illustrate how this fee works, say you enroll in a sociology class. Once you enroll in the course, you are charged for tuition which is $197.79 per credit hour. For your average 3-credit hour course, this means that you have to pay $593.37 in tuition alone. Next, you tack on the additional undergraduate program fee. In this particular case, enrolling in the sociology course adds the $17.10 per credit hour Social Science fee, to reach a total of a $53.30 program fee. This means that for a single course, you are paying well over $600 just to take a class between the cost of tuition and the program fee.
While the additional $53 may not sound like a lot of money in the grand scheme of the high cost of higher education, this fee system in its entirety does in fact collect a great deal of student money. For instance, in this fiscal year alone, Missouri Western collected over $2.4 million from program fees alone.
Vice President of Financial Planning and Administration Cale Fessler said that the money collected from these fees goes into the general operating budget to be used across Missouri Western and not necessarily the departments associated with the fee.
“We don’t tie it to one thing and say that this [fee] specifically provided these things, but it provides us the means to continue to do a variety of things and hopefully increase them, particularly on the academic side,” Fessler said.
The idea of program fees are not particularly new to Western either.
“There have been various levels of program fees across a number of programs across a number of years. The Craig School of Business, theatre and cinema, nursing and allied health and a couple of other areas had program fees for a number of years,” Fessler said. “We did some expansion of that beginning in fiscal year 2014 and that was tied to a couple of things.”
Fessler cited that some of the revenue pressures that led to the fees includes a lack of state appropriations dollars, a drop in enrollment in recent years and increases in unfunded mandates, or expenses that Western has to pay as they increase over time, like utilities.
Along with the expansion of these fees, their cost has also increased over the years.
“They have increased over time somewhat,” Fessler said. “We review them annually, just like we do with all of our tuition and fee rates and courses rates and things like that. We don’t set them at a particular percent. How we look at them, again, is dependent on the revenue side of things.”
While these fees may be tied to certain classes, these fees should not be confused with supply or material fees that come with enrolling in certain classes.
“It’s separate from a course fee that may provide for a specific supply like in art that goes specifically with that [course],” Fessler said. “So it is a general operating [fee].”
Such program fees are not used by Missouri Western alone, Fessler said.
“Many other schools have program fees like this,” Fessler said. “I know we did, at the time that some of this was expanded, we reviewed what other schools were doing and some have significantly higher fees in various others and some have similar [ones]. That’s kind of dependent on the institution. Missouri Western is not unique in the area of program fees.”
This particular set of fees does not appear to be something that is utilized at Missouri Western’s rival university.
Vice President of Finance Stacy Carrick at Northwest Missouri State University said that a similar fee program has not used at Northwest.
“Northwest has not implemented a separate ‘departmental’ fee,” Carrick said.
Truman University, meanwhile, charges an additional “special courses fee” that varies in use.
Some of them go specifically to supplies used in courses, enrolling in a specific course and a few board course fees. These fees also vary from per credit hour charges to per course charges.
Another institution has used the same sort of broad program fees as Missouri Western, but on a much smaller scale. Bursar at Missouri Southern State University, Alicia Hughes, said her institution, unlike Missouri Western, has only one department that charges a blanket fee for undergraduate courses.
“Our School of Business is currently the only department that charges a fee for all courses within the department,” Hughes said. “Our Teacher Education department charges a program fee as well, but that only applies to graduate courses. While I believe you may find that Missouri Western’s model is fairly common practice it’s not something that Missouri Southern has widely adopted yet.”
How prevalent the use of program fees is by colleges and universities in Missouri and how much they cost is not widely known. The Missouri Department of Higher Education does not even collect such fee information, despite collecting information on tuition.
DHE Director of Communications and Marketing Liz Coleman said that it is at the discretion of the universities to determine the costs of such fees.
“Every college and university determines those kinds of fees and they don’t report that to us,” Coleman said. “They do report tuition and general fees, but program fees and course fees, they don’t report that to us. That [fee] is decided at the university and college level.”
Part of the issue with a lack of information on university fees is that currently the DHE is only allowed to collect certain tuition and fee information because of a state mandated cap on how much universities can raise their tuition per year. A proposed House Bill may help change the availability of fee information colleges and universities have to provide, however.
H.B. 2095 would require that universities publish the total costs of degrees offered at their institution, including fees charged in addition to tuition. This would go beyond the information currently gathered by Department of Higher Education.
Until the bill passes, however, individual colleges and universities will largely be the only ones with all the information on their fee programs and the total cost of attendance.
While the cost of these additional and program fees may prove to be somewhat high for students, universities like Missouri Western depend on them to function.
“In terms of importance, they’re very important, just like tuition dollars are important and every state appropriation dollar is extremely important,” Fessler said. “It’s all a part of the revenue puzzle and every part is very important for us to be able to operate.”