In response to last week’s article by C.J. Williams and such penetrating insight as, “(student fees) suck,” I believe it is necessary to challenge the student body at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to raise the level of conversation regarding the cost of attendance. The cost of attendance, about $3,000 per semester when I started undergrad in 2012 compared to $5,000 when I finished in 2017, illustrates the alarming rate of increase. However, this issue is statewide and is attributable to our legislature, our university and university system, and even to us, the students.
According to the College Board’s Annual Report on the cost of attendance, 2017-2018, the average cost at all of Louisiana’s four-year public universities rose by 48 percent in the past five years, more than double the next most egregious offender. Why? Since 2010, state legislative acts like GRAD Act and Act 293 have allowed the UL System to raise fees without legislative approval. It should surprise no one that when universities have the power to raise funds and the discretion to spend those funds that the costs would increase.
Students misdirect their resentment at the $1 debate fee or the $2 daycare fee, but those aren’t what these new fees go to pay. Typically those fees which fund student clubs or direct student services, money put directly into the pockets of other students, are criticized most hotly. Those fees aren’t the problem and comprised a total of only $85.07 of my semester costs. The Operational Fee alone cost me $61.20. Increasingly, universities in Louisiana transfer the operational and academic costs to students. Why is it that Louisiana sought fit to establish so many public colleges and universities when the funding for those universities comes increasingly from the student body in the manner akin to private universities?
The problem lies in a basic misunderstanding of the tuition and fee structure. What often goes unnoticed is the difference between the nominal or “sticker price” of attendance and the actual amount students pay to attend, known as the net price. Prior to 2015, any increase in the sticker price was absorbed by TOPS, and students hadn’t complained as loudly about rising costs before then because student’s net price had not increased. TOPS, scholarships and other discounts offset the sticker price paid by many students.
Attention must be focused on those students who bear the disproportionate brunt of the fee increases, students who couldn’t perform as well on their ACT who didn’t qualify for TOPS or scholarships. For those students, every increase in the nominal price is an increase in the net price they pay. It should be impermissible that those students least able or least prepared to attend school should have to pay proportionally more, but then again, UL Lafayette didn’t design either assessed fees or the new “luxury” housing complex with them in mind.