Mandatory student fees may increase

Tech students could see some increases in mandatory fees next fiscal year. The requests for increases were reviewed during the Tennessee Board of Regent’s first quarterly meeting Monday. Other topics discussed that will directly affect Tech students were adjustments made to the quarterly calendar and reviewing student revenues needed to offset decreased state funding.

This is the fourth year the TBR will experience state funding reductions, with total reduction expected to average 28.8 percent in 2012. During Monday’s meeting, the board reviewed last year’s general financial environment to see if the format would suffice this year.

Total funding needed is lost state funding plus fixed cost increases. The level of needed funding is translated into the increase of student revenues. The student increase required to replace lost state funding at 80 percent was 6.7 percent.

“The differential is the 80 percent, and 100 percent is due to stimulus funding,” Sims said. “We were able to offset our tuition increase due to that one-time money.”

The charge by additional course hours was discussed during the meeting to educate new board members. The procedure, implemented in the 2009-2010 school year, initiated an extra fee for any hours taken more than 12. At the start, overload hours had about a 95 percent discount of the base rate, costing $10 for every hour more than 12 for in-state students and $25 for out-of-state students.

During this school year, those rates were increased to $30 for every hour more than 12 for in-state students and $78 for out-of-state students, which reduced the discount to 85 percent.

“The points of discussion were whether or not to stick with the discount level or step it up,” Sims said. “There were advocates at that point in time that believed we should be moving toward removing the discount and charging the same hourly rate for all hours. There were also members on the board that felt a move on the discount was appropriate but weren’t comfortable moving all the way off.”

Other fees discussed were penalties and fines and specialized academic course fees. Tech’s penalties and fines include parking fines, late registration, returned check, and deferred payment late fees. There are specialized academic course fees for business, engineering and nursing courses.

The only current requests at yesterday’s meeting were for mandatory fees for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Tech’s mandatory fees include campus access, course change, debt service, graduation, student government, sustainable campus, and technology access.

It has been requested that the athletics and student activity mandatory fees be increased. Sims brought it to the attention of the board that universities combine these fees into “general access fees” or “program service fees.” Tech has general access fees.

Institutions will present full requests for increases in all other fees at the Feb. 14 meeting, along with itemizations and detailed summaries. The goal of the February meeting is to identify the issues any board members have with these requests.

Last year, the board agreed to adjust the calendar to deal with incidental, maintenance, and tuition fees in March instead of at the tradition June meeting.

“Students were enrolling and signing things, such as housing contracts, not knowing what those rates would be, since they weren’t set by the board until June,” Vice Chancellor Dale Sims said. “This allows us to get part of our fee structure in place. They are aware of exactly what they are committing to.”

All other fees for the 2010-2011 fiscal year were reviewed to familiarize new board members with the process.

Miscellaneous course fees represent fees based upon courses students enroll in. Currently Tech offers 18 classes that require miscellaneous course fees. The fees can range from third-party fees, such as to bowling alleys or material fees needed in the classroom.

“I’d be interested to see how many schools offer the same types of programs,” Regent Tom Griscom said.

Sims agreed to try to gather the information of the total number of schools offering the same courses with mandatory course fees.

Tech has 10 miscellaneous incidental fees, including absentia diploma, application, hang tag, post office box, and international student fees. These fees are not mandatory unless the student engages in the activity.

“Miscellaneous incidental fees are a variety of fees that don’t neatly fit into another category,” Sims said.

There are some fees that have been set through the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act concerning penalties and fines. The board does not have the discretion to change those fees unless the rules and regulations are silent on the issue or they defer setting the fee to the board.

There are several criteria the fee has to meet for specialized academic course fees. If the institution wants to raise an amount, it has to come back through the board for permission.

“The first thing the institution has to prove is there is a high instructional cost,” Sims said. “In addition, there are other factors including student demand, accreditation requirements, national or regional reputations, [and] student impacts.”

The full board considers Committee on Finance and Business Operations’ recommendations on mandatory and incidental fees.

The last meeting of the quarter will be March 25.