Getting Our Money’s Worth

An editorial
By Chris Hibbard
The Meliorist
Nov. 2007

Getting Our Money’s Worth

As university students, we pay a great deal more for our education than mere tuition. I am referring here to all the little fees and costs that are tacked on to the tuition, most of which we have no choice but to pay. Just what are all these little fees, and just where does our money go?
I started thinking about this topic last week after reading some residual TLFs about the most recent Student’s Union referendum – apparent lingering bitterness about the fact that CKXU 88.3 radio now gets four extra dollars a year. If four extra dollars causes some students major concerns, they should stop reading this right now – because that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

Before I begin, I should tell you just a little about myself. In the three and half years I’ve been enrolled here at the U of L, I have switched my program three times. I have never used the swimming pool, the climbing wall, or been to a Pronghorns game. I have never been to an LPIRG function or been helped by the Women’s Centre. While I pay the extra grand for health and dental, which many opt out of, I have yet to undergo any major dental operations. (Knock on wood.) I do however, drink at the Zoo from time to time, volunteer at CKXU every Sunday night, and read and write for the Meliorist every week. While I may not be the ‘average’ U of L student, I am certainly not an abnormal one. So in order to do research about where in fact our money goes whilst in the post-secondary system, I used myself as an example.
(Keep in mind that I am not a math major, a business major, an accounting major, or a political science major. I am a writer, a Native American Studies student, and am currently enrolled in the Education faculty.)

I started by printing off all my University payment statements. I then removed any fees specific to my program of studies (Education). Next I removed my tuition costs and any exceptions to them such as bursaries or scholarships, since these things are specific to a select group. The remaining fees are likely very similar, if not identical to yours. Lastly, I added up all these ‘additional fees’ that I have paid over a certain 3.5 year period at this school, only to find that since Fall semester of 2004, I have spent a total of $3087.99 on University Fees and Student’s Union Fees alone.

That’s a substantial amount that I have paid out and barely seen any concrete return on. (In my opinion of course.) I would imagine that many other students have paid approximately the same amount, or will have by the time they’ve been here for as long as I have. Now, in order to be scientifically rigorous, in the spirit of the accounting process, let’s break this down even further shall we?

Chris Hibbard’s University Fees: Fall 2004 – Fall 2007

Athletics – $346.30

This money goes towards the U of L’s Pronghorn teams and other athletic programs, plus gym memberships, a new climbing wall, and so on. Since I’ve already admitted that I am fairly apathetic when it comes to school sports, or even exercise for that matter, I sort of feel that this money was wasted. While I strongly encourage health and wellness, and support our teams (in a way) by including them in the Meliorist each week, it makes me wonder if Bill Cade and other university bigwigs are big fans of sports – thereby putting more money into the pursuit of them than say, I would choose to. However, an employee reminded me that sports facilities and teams are a big draw for potential future students, thus are very important.
According to the Student’s Union, the fee structure of the U of L, including the Athletics department, changes every year. It doesn’t change by referendum mind you, but through a yearly process in which a Student Fee Committee (any student may request to sit on this committee) and university financial planners make decisions for us regarding tuition increases and these other ancillary fees. If I am an example of an ‘average’ U of L student, complete with a common apathy regarding school sporting events, it would seem that we students pay quite a lot of money for our U of L athletics and recreation.

Women’s Centre – $4

The women’s centre had their own referendum a few years back, and now get $1 per semester from each student. Considering that 62 per cent of U of L students are female, this seems pretty reasonable, even if I can’t use their services myself at all, aside from a ‘free condom’ bowl that they have inside their doors.

LPIRG – Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group – $30

This little group uses our money to conduct research on socially relevant and environmental issues, and brings fine films and documentaries to campus in an attempt to enrich our university experience. One of these films was “Waltown”, a documentary about Walmart’s pervasiveness in our world today. I like documentaries, especially ones that confront big businesses, corporations, and other organizations that have a tendency to operate in the shadows, ruling our world one shopper at a time.

Meliorist – $30

Even though I work at this paper, I still have to pay $5/semester fee. I really don’t mind though. It’s nice to have some weekly reading material, especially some that tries to relate to our university lives, is absolutely free of charge, and to which any student can contribute to easily, writing about whatever their heart desires.

Student Administration Fee – $315

From what I can tell, this money went to the Registrar’s Office and to the Cash Office. I have had both good experiences and bad experiences at both of these offices in my time here, but I certainly don’t feel that I have received $315 worth of customer service while waiting in line to pay my tuition.

Student Sport Wellness Contribution Fee – $15

This fee goes pretty much directly to the new Phys. Ed. Building here on campus – or the First Choice Savings Health and Wellness Centre. They get their name on it (passed by referendum), we all get to pay for it, and we all get to use it – provided we choose to do so.

Student Union Building Fee – $155.16

Stemming from an old referendum, these bucks go to maintaining and operating the Student’s Union building. Keeping the carpets cleaned, washrooms stocked, and so on. I am not convinced that my $341 has benefited me per se, but who knows.

S.U. Capital Replacement Fund (CRF) – $341.75

From what I understand, this fund is dipped into in order to buy purchase new couches, chairs, tables, and expand office space etc. While I sit on couches in the SU building from time to time, and have enjoyed Galileo’s once or twice, have I sat down enough to make this money worth it?

Dental Plan: $440 / Health Plan $540 – Total: $980

I know that some students choose to opt out of these benefits, but I am not one of them. Since I am basically a ‘mature’ student (a misnomer, to be sure), I cough up these bucks as insurance. ‘Just in case’ I need dental or medical help while I live and study here. I estimate that about 6000 students out of the 7000 enrolled, pay these fees like I do. This becomes important a little later on. Just hold on.

Student’s Union Operation Fee – $127.62

These fees go towards keeping the SU’s general operations running. This money helps pay SU employees and promote student advancement. Included in this latter category, but tied somehow to our tuition fees, are so-called Quality Initiative Proposals. These are basically decisions made on how to best distribute ‘social’ funds. These funds are reserved for U of L students who present the SU with good ideas that might benefit the University.
Each of these QIPs are decided upon by the General Assembly, and include events like our recent cancelled appearances by sex-pert Sue Johansen and Premier Ed Stelmach, and our new steel U-Wall – the metal wall that now resides on the hill behind The SU building. This wall, that cost $5,500, is an interactive art piece that students and clubs can pretty much graffiti with anything at anytime – within reason of course.

Materials and Service Fee – $755.16

This mysterious category includes computer and science lab equipment, Curriculum Redevelopment, and possibly IT services and even library books. Perhaps a letter to the editor next week may tell us more. (Wink, nudge, hint hint.)

To make a long breakdown short, I’ve spent $3088 in the last four years on these little fees. I remind you that this does not include tuition, bus passes, gas money, daycare, parking passes, books, rent, food, or social life expenses. This is simply money that we give to keep the university running. To make it just that much worse, we cannot pay these fees with a credit card, so can receive no air miles, Canadian Tire bucks, or credit-rating improvement.
Now, I don’t mean to sound overly critical. A lot of the fees that we pay as students go towards payroll, paying some of the salaries of Lethbridge’s biggest employee base. While no one wants to attend a university that is little more than four walls and a roof, neither do we want to attend classes taught by poorly-trained professors or worn-down carpets that are never vacuumed. But consider this: if this amount were to be multiplied by 7000 students (minus the amounts not paid by those who opt-out of the medical/dental fees), the university rakes in $18,531,028 from us students based on these fees, every four years.
I would suggest that the recent writers of TLFs who griped about the newest fee – 4 dollars a year to CKXU radio, chew on these numbers for a while. There are, as the expression goes, bigger fish to fry around here than ‘emo kids’ and their music. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I had better go have my first swim in the University pool, before it’s too late to see any return on my investment.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on June 5, 2009.

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