Total education costs vary by department

Outside of tuition, the cost of courses vary through the University.

by Jennifer Bissell

Originally, University of Minnesota senior Elliot Anderson thought he wanted to major in English. But after thinking about what kind of jobs heâÄôd realistically get, he started to second guess his decision.
âÄúEveryone wants to be a writer,âÄù he said. âÄúBut how many actually get to write books?âÄù
Anderson ultimately decided to major in communications, and while future earnings was one factor that influenced his decision, the difference in price was not.
Yet the cost to take classes can vary dramatically at the University. On average, classes in the most expensive departments cost more than three times the amount of those in the least expensive, according to analysis by the Minnesota Daily.
Aside from tuition, which is a standard rate for all undergraduates, textbook prices, course fees and collegiate fees can vary.
Over four years, choosing one field of study over another could mean a difference of $3,000.
Not knowing that communication textbooks and course fees cost roughly $44 less per class than English courses, Anderson said the price difference would have been another aspect he considered.
âÄú[ItâÄôs] just another factor in a whole bunch,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôd like if all classes were cheaper. But I have to get a degree no matter what.âÄù
Academic freedom and the cost of individual courses
In an analysis of these extra costs for 100 departments, the Daily found that business courses were the most expensive, followed by math and science. The least expensive was education.
Acknowledging that it does cost different amounts to pursue different majors, Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said it isnâÄôt a metric the Office of Budget and Finance tracks.
âÄúThere is a difference,âÄù Pfutzenreuter said. âÄúItâÄôs a fair question to ask [why].âÄù
Currently the Office of Budget and Finance, which approves all course and collegiate fees, is trying to narrow the definition of the collegiate fee. In the future, it may try to standardize the cost of different majors so all students pay the same amount, Pfutzenreuter said.
One reason why the University hasnâÄôt already standardized the cost is because it could hinder departmentsâÄô academic freedom.
This semester, the average extra costs associated with a mechanical engineering course was $183, compared to the $16 it costs to take a course in the Greek department.
âÄúThe choice of textbook is up to the professor and their professional judgment,âÄù mechanical engineer department Chairman Uwe Kortshagen said of the departmentâÄôs cost. âÄúI donâÄôt feel the department should interfere with the course material.âÄù
Mechanical engineering professor Terrence Simon said the textbook he uses is $130, but that students prefer the book to cheaper alternatives. For a semester Simon tried a free online book, but students said they didnâÄôt like it because it was too difficult to understand.
Even if departments were to band together and bargain with publishers for lower prices, Simon said he doubted it would make a âÄúbig wave.âÄù
Publishing company Pearson Education representative Susan Aspey admitted some subjectâÄôs textbooks cost more than others, but she said the more expensive books can usually be used for more than one semester. Additionally, Aspey said math and science texts can be priced higher because there is a smaller market for texts in upper division courses.
Course fees, another slice of the pie
Aside from textbooks, course fees can also make up a significant portion of how much a course costs.
Typically course fees are assessed for classes that use extra materials outside of required textbooks. For instance, an art class may need to pay a model for a class exercise, or a biology class may need to pay for a fieldtrip.
The vast majority of classes donâÄôt have a course fee but the fees are common for art and lab courses.
This semester, art classes, which typically have fewer books, had the highest average course fee at $27 per class. The second highest area was math and science courses at $17, followed by health studies at $14.
Collegiate fees
While tuition generally pays for expenses such as faculty salaries and building upkeep, collegiate fees are more specific to the services provided for students.
Full-time students enrolled in the Carlson School of Management are charged the highest collegiate fee at $495 each semester, compared to $115 for CLA students.
Carlson School Assistant Dean Mary Maus Kosir said the schoolâÄôs fee went toward academic advising, the business career center and technology services, among other things.
âÄúYes there is a high fee but the return on investment is high,âÄù Kosir said. âÄúItâÄôs a high value for its students and the best deal in town. The quality of advising and exposure to the business world is second to none.âÄù
Adding the collegiate fee to textbook and class fees, the extra costs of business courses are 87 percent higher than the University-wide average.
Kosir said Alison Davis-Blake the Carlson School dean meets occasionally with college and department leaders to speak about the importance of keeping cost in mind, but said there are a lot of other factors to consider when planning for how much a course will cost.
âÄúEducation has to maintain quality and needs to be affordable,âÄù Kosir said. âÄúBut [affordability] isnâÄôt something worth sacrificing quality on.âÄù
Proposed major fee
In October, the Board of Regents discussed the possibility of a new sliding-scale fee on majors to mitigate how much the University spends to provide some of the more expensive programming.
Carlson School courses were named as some of the more expensive programming because the professors have higher salaries on average.
In March, University President Bob Bruininks told the Daily that the proposal would not be a part of the budget he would submit to the regents at the end of his tenure.
âÄúI donâÄôt think oneâÄôs academic access to a career at the undergraduate level should be determined by your wealth or your economic status,âÄù Bruininks said. âÄúI think it should be driven by your curiosity.âÄù
Though the costs already vary by department, Pfutzenreuter explained that a fee for different majors would make the difference significantly larger.
Other universities have a similar fee system and the proposal is one that occasionally comes up, Pfutzenreuter said.
ItâÄôs unclear whether incoming President Eric Kaler would support the new fee.
Kosir declined to comment on whether she thought the new fee was appropriate but said she did not believe CarlsonâÄôs already-higher price tag deterred students from pursuing majors within the school. In fact, Carlson School applications increased this year by 16 percent, Kosir said.