Sept. 18, 2012 at 3:40 p.m.

Facilities fee leads list of fees burdening, confusing campus

Classrooms start here. Character starts here. Dreamy fields start here. Hot careers start here.

Apparently, high student fees start here, too.

At Wingspan, the questions of why Laramie County Community College has the highest student fees among Wyoming community colleges and of how those fees are used have been on our minds. When LCCC raised its facilities fee to $8 a credit hour, the May 4, 2009, issue of Wingspan had published an editorial headlined “My college takes more”—a wordplay on the college’s slogan at the time—“My college is more.”

To compare today, a Wyoming resident attending LCCC for 12 credit hours pays $900 in tuition and at least $420 in fees each semester. That same student attending Casper College, an institution whose size is comparable to LCCC, pays $900 in tuition but $216 in fees. Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs has the lowest fees of $193.

Tuition at all Wyoming community colleges is the same and is set by the Wyoming Community College Commission. The board of trustees at each college sets the student fees.

Ghosts of presidents past still lingering

One reason LCCC’s fees are so high was in spring 2009 then president Dr. Darrel Hammon convinced the LCCC trustees to finance for a 12-year period a $7.1 million cafeteria and residence hall remodeling with an $8 a credit hour fee effective for the fall 2009 semester.

Today that means students—even online students—are still paying nearly $100 a semester for a cafeteria and a residence hall they may never step foot inside.

It’s impossible for students to determine the breakdown of their fees. It’s not in the LCCC student handbook. It’s not on the tuition and fees page of the college’s website. It’s not in the LCCC student financial aid guide. It’s not in the class schedule. It’s not in the catalog.

So much for transparency.

The catalog and class schedule, however, do list a records fee, a credit by examination fee, a retake placement test fee, a non-LCCC placement test fee, a transcript fee, a graduation fee, a cap and gown fee, a compressed video fee and an online fee.

President is aware

In his state of the college address on Aug. 15, President Dr. Joe Schaffer made it clear he is aware of the issue and has made it a priority to review the issue. So what do students get in return for these fees?

The general fees, which came to about $10.25 a credit hour last year, are fees that are gathered and re-appropriated by the Student Fee Allocation Committee (SFAC) to clubs and organizations like Student Government Association, Phi Theta Kappa and the Windsmiths Club. A complete listing of SFAC’s allocations for this academic year may be found here.

A few fees among the second set of fees are facilities fees, athletic fees, wellness and health education fees, and high-tech fees. President Schaffer said these fees are managed by various administrators on campus.

Facilities fees, he said, mostly are paying into the debt LCCC has acquired from renovations for new areas like the cafeteria. Although we do not have a nurse practitioner on campus or anywhere to go if a student is sick, wellness fees, the president said, support disease prevention education as well as health promotion and awareness activities on campus.

A portion of the wellness and health education fees have also been budgeted for employee salaries and operating expenses, Schaffer said.

Offering health services possibility in future

Schaffer expressed concern at the lack of health services on campus. Because he has been here less than a year, Schaffer said he didn’t know how well-liked the current and previous health promotions and disease prevention education have been.

However, he said he wanted a more coordinated approach to providing health services at the college. So far, he has partnered with the University of Wyoming Health Services to provide a place for students to go. The clinic, called the University of Wyoming Family Medicine, offers access to health care, Schaffer said, while also being affordable for students.

President Schaffer said he believed LCCC could be making better use of the health and wellness fees by having a nurse on campus or, better yet, in the future, possibly using part of these fees to help provide health insurance to every student in need.

He said he wanted to help students who must deal with unexpected surprises like large hospital bills by providing affordable health insurance. He feared students may be forced to quit school to pay expensive health care bills.

Schaffer, who envisioned new construction on campus housing student health care, said he would put the new vice president of student services, Judy Hay, in charge of this issue.

Cynthia Henning, physical education instructor and coordinator, who is responsible for the budgeting of the PE wellness fee on the LCCC campus, outlined a list of beneficial items those fees funded last year. These included two new treadmills, five spinning bikes and a few new weight machines. Henning and a committee of individuals, including students, who use the PE facility decide new purchases.

Intramural sports could be the hottest topic of allocated student fees among LCCC students, a topic addressed last academic year by the Student Government Association.

In spring of this year, former interim vice president of student services, Dr. Grant Wilson, said he had made it a priority to address the intramural sports concern.

Because Wilson was temporary, President Schaffer said, the process has been somewhat delayed. But, Schaffer said when he arrived it was on his “Big Things List” following only a few other issues.

Athletic director to coordinate more than athletics

As far as creating a new full-time position of athletic director to coordinate an intramural sports program, Schaffer said that may not happen until the spring, but he said he would be extremely disappointed if intramurals could not be offered this semester.

Schaffer said the search to hire this full-time employee has not begun. (See story here.)

He said he believed hiring someone full time will bring the needed coherence to run the athletic department and intramurals.

Because we already have the facilities, Schaffer said, “I see no reason we can’t begin intramurals like basketball, volleyball and soccer this fall.”

The facilities fee and the high-tech fee, the President said, are “commonplace at almost any college.”

While the high-tech fees, he said, cover resources like network capabilities, technology in the classrooms and wireless services, the general fees are approved, changed and given back to students through SFAC.

Schaffer suggested that because the student body has grown, the money has increased, and decisions on spending the money may have been made “on the fly” and need to be tweaked.

However, he said, “I don’t know why some decisions were made.” He said he wanted to re-work the process of collecting fees and to make their use more understandable to students.

He said a new process involving trustees, employees through College Council and students through their voice in student government and an analysis of previous decision-making will be very useful for students in understanding why and where their money is spent.

“I believe we should and will complete a thorough analysis of fees and where they are going,” he said. “I want students to hear the case, debate the case and come to a stance when determining fees.”

Time to talk about solutions

Wingspan, like the president, doesn’t yet have all the information, but we think it’s time to begin looking for possible solutions.

While the intramural fee is getting all of the attention, the reality is at 21 cents a credit hour, it is the least of our worries.

Instead, a good place to start would be the facilities fee, which at $96 for a full-time student, is nearly one-quarter of the total amount of student fees. The college needs to examine other sources to fund the cafeteria and residence hall to relieve the burden from all students. The biggest users of the cafeteria and residence halls are the students living in the residence halls. While it may be unclear which students who don’t reside in the residence hall actually use the cafeteria, no student who does not reside in the residence hall is allowed in the residence hall. By separating the cost of the residence hall remodeling from the cafeteria remodeling, we could make clear what monetary responsibility should lie squarely in the pocketbook of those who live in the residence hall.

Outside groups who are using the college’s facilities and catering could be charged a user fee, which, in part, could be used to pay for the cafeteria remodel. This may be just a drop of water on a hot griddle, but it would be a token and recognition of the role catering played in the original decision to remodel the cafeteria.

Even if this fee were eliminated, LCCC’s students would still pay $100 more than the Wyoming college with the most comparable size, Casper College.

The other concern is what happens to that $8 a credit hour fee when the renovations are paid for. What goes up must come down. The college administration must make a commitment to discontinue this fee after the debt has been paid.

Fees, fees: where does it end?

Another critical area to be analyzed is the projected $477,000 generated for LCCC’s main campus through general fees. The recipient of the largest portion of this fee is Campus Activities Board (CAB) at $60,000. CAB hosted a concert Aug. 31 in the College Arena. If the poor attendance of about 20 at the Justin Lane concert—most of whom wore CAB volunteer T-shirts—is an indicator of how the money is spent, this is a primary example of where the expenditures must be more closely examined.

A third area, high-tech fees—the only ones that are assessed at LCCC beyond 12 credit hours—account for 28.5 percent of the student fees if a student takes 12 credit hours. To illustrate, an LCCC student with 12 credit hours pays more than 50 percent in technology fees ($120) than what a Casper College student pays in total for all fees ($216).

Because each Wyoming college has different structures for assessing fees, it becomes nearly impossible for students to know whether what they are being charged is competitive with comparable colleges in the state. As an example a student at Casper College taking art or biology would not be assessed a course fee. At LCCC course fees for art classes are $20 and biology is $25. Depending on an LCCC student’s course load, fees like these could add up to hundreds of dollars on top of the $420 in fees a semester that a student taking 12 credit hours is already assessed.

Although tackling student fees, course fees and “other applicable fees” at LCCC will be a massive undertaking, examining them must start here…and now.

LCCC Student Handbook

Tuition and Fees on LCCC website

Financial Aid Guide

LCCC Class Schedule (main campus)

LCCC Catalog