Grad students raise issues with fees

University graduate and professional students are concerned with fees transparency.

Grad students raise issues with fees

Cody Nelson

 

Some University of Minnesota graduate and professional students say increasing fees are creating a financial burden.

To begin discussion on the fees — which are higher for international students — the Council of Graduate Students released a preliminary report this month outlining University fees.

“People are really starting to be agitated by these fees,” said Scott Thaller, a COGS member who worked on the report.

Graduate and professional students pay several fees, including the student services and capital enhancement fees, plus varying collegiate fees for each school.

The report found collegiate fees are much higher at University graduate and professional schools than at peer schools.

The University Law School, for example, charges its students a $475 collegiate fee. At Northwestern University, law students pay a comparable activity fee of only $150.

Many graduate assistants are forced to live off their stipend because they sign a contract that doesn’t allow them to take outside employment, COGS President Aaron Beek said.

Graduate assistants pay at least 4 percent of their stipends in fees, according to the report. In the College of Science and Engineering, fees can be 11 percent of that stipend.

About 10 percent of Sara Nelson’s wages go to fees, she said.

“Our wages haven’t even kept up with inflation,” Nelson said.

Nelson, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society, said she’s frustrated with the capital enhancement fee, which supports the renewal or construction of University facilities.

“The lack of transparency is one thing,” she said, “but more fundamentally, the lack of any kind of input or control over this process is another thing.”

When COGS began to investigate rising collegiate fees and what they went to, Thaller said the results were “a bit of a black box.”

“It was impossible to track a dollar,” he said.

The group found much of the collegiate fees money was spent on technology expenses, Thaller said.

International students

International students at the University pay $160 more in fees per semester than their U.S. peers.

They paid a $145 fee for extra orientation and advising and a $14 International Student Aid Fee each semester in 2012-13.

Charmaine Chua, an international graduate student in the Department of Political Science, said fees and the graduate assistant employment policy are a structural problem.

“We essentially get a lot of disadvantages,” Chua said.

The employment policy especially affects international graduate students in the political science department, she said, because many fellowship opportunities are limited to U.S. students.

In addition, international students can be stuck without income over the summer if they can’t take another job, she said.

“If international students don’t have a summer package offer,” she said, “then in the summers they’re pretty much left with no income whatsoever because they can’t even work a Jimmy John’s job.”

Lack of clarity

Many incoming University graduate students are “shocked” to find they have fees to pay on top of tuition, Thaller said.

Currently, some graduate programs don’t include estimated fees in their offer letters.

When Nelson received her offer letter, she said she “had no idea” her tuition waiver didn’t cover fees.

Chua said most other institutions include the amount of expected fees in their offer letters.

“It almost makes things seem better than they are when you don’t have to put [fees] in the letters,” she said.

After COGS’ preliminary report is reviewed by all fees stakeholders, Executive Vice President Andrew McNally said a final report will be released at the end of the semester with a more specific plan.