Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2014

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

Fee hikes are the forgotten increases in college costs

This month, about 150 students from Southern Nevada’s three public colleges piled into the spacious room on the ground floor of UNLV’s Stan Fulton Building where the state higher education system’s Board of Regents was meeting.

In a rare, spirited demonstration, they carried homemade signs decrying potential tuition increases and cheered a string of speakers doing the same. Protestors from UNLV presented regents with two boxes holding thousands of letters of opposition.

Talk of tuition hikes is sure to provoke students. Often, however, they fail to show up to voice opposition to other increases that contribute to escalating education costs — a point that this month’s regents meeting demonstrated despite the strong showing on the afternoon of Dec. 4.

After learning that tuition would not go up spring semester, the protesters departed, thrilled. Many will undoubtedly be back to voice dissent if regents consider increases for fall.

But few students attended the meeting the next day, when the board, on a 7-6 vote, approved more than 100 new or increased fees. These, together with new fees for dental, nursing and medical students that the board approved separately that day, are expected to raise millions of dollars for public colleges next year.

UNLV students taking Geology 372, advanced field geology, for example, will pay a course fee of $300 next year instead of $45. The increase will help offset transportation expenses the department incurs for field trips to sites where students conduct geologic mapping.

At the College of Southern Nevada, the fee for a gas tungsten arc welding class will be $75, up from $40, to compensate for the “rising costs of metals and combustible materials,” according to a description regents reviewed.

“I don’t think the general student population was aware of this,” said Regent Steve Sisolak, who voted against the set of more than 100 new or increased fees.

Although students pay attention to tuition increases — which get the most attention in the media and from advocacy groups — they often don’t bother to learn about other charges.

At this month’s meeting, Regent Ron Knecht argued in favor of the special increases, saying, “The real issue is whether this is sensible pricing, and contrary to my good friend Regent Sisolak, I think it is a move toward sensible pricing.”

He said it made sense to raise prices in classes colleges pay more to support.

An explanation of why UNLV needed to raise the Geology 372 fee stated, “The vehicle expenses for this class this past academic year were $693/student, and are expected to be higher in the future. Even with the proposed increase in course fees to $300.00, the department will be subsidizing this class.”

In the past, student leaders have supported fee increases that provide clear benefits.

They offered support, for example, for a $4-per-credit technology fee, approved in 1999, that helps colleges staff computer labs, replace outdated technology and fund other tech services.

Still, many students know little about the potpourri of expenses that are part of their bills each semester.

Though each new fee might seem insignificant, they can add up quickly. Just consider a few more of the increases in the long list that regents approved this month.

Incoming UNLV graduate students will pay a new $35 fee to help fund graduate student recruitment, orientation and other services.

Students in certain photography, education and music classes at the University of Nevada, Reno, will see increases.

The summer school surcharge at UNLV for students who are not Nevada residents will rise from $50 per credit to $100 per credit, which is expected to raise an extra $980,000 annually for the university.

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