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Column: Your hidden costs at IU


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By Kelly Fritz



As someone who pays for her own schooling, I’ve become hyper-aware of how mysteriously my money is being spent by the University.

I hear my money goes toward misused IU Student Association funding, unnecessary University beautification projects and bloated administrative salaries for officials who do next to nothing to directly help students.

To try and get my facts straight, I thought I’d break down tuition and fees into pure numbers.

As an in-state student, a three-credit-hour class should cost $820.20. I’m taking 12 credit hours this semester, so I should be paying $3,280.80. Yet, the University charges a flat fee to anyone taking between 12 and 17 credit hours, so I pay $4,375 even, $1,094.20 more than I should be paying for the number of classes I’m taking. I’m basically paying for an extra class and a half, for no apparent reason.

I have no idea where that $1,094.20 is going.

Beyond tuition, the $197.28 technology fee makes sense. There’s link on the Office of the Bursar’s website explaining exactly where my money is going. It’s a fee for a practical, visible, explained service.

But I don’t know what to make of the “temporary repair and rehab” fee of $180 per term, explained only as going toward “help(ing) cover the cost of necessary repair work and ongoing maintenance for IU’s assorted infrastructure.” IU is supposedly using it for all of those construction and repair projects that I didn’t approve and that I, as a student, was not able to give input on.

The seemingly arbitrary $110.22 student health fee is completely unexplained.

There’s also the $92.74 activity fee. Of that, $7.19 goes to IUSA’s general fund, newspaper readership program and Student Organization Funding Board. The rest, though, goes toward even more services I have absolutely no input on. We’re paying for the IU Auditorium and the Indiana Memorial Union, as well as the Outdoor Adventure Club, Graduate and Professional Student Organization, campus daycare, Student Legal Services, Union Board and a myriad of other services most of us will never use.

This, of course, is on top of the $61.56 we pay each semester for use of the Student Recreational Sports Center, even if you’re like me and never use it. You can’t opt out.
The above fees, totalling $641.60, are separate from any fees we pay for the actual courses or departments we’re enrolled in.

So far, if you’re following along ­— between paying for extra credit hours I’m not taking and mandatory student fees — that’s nearly $1,500 of my money. I’m paying nearly $1,500 per semester in extra tuition and fees that are unexplained or that fund programs I have no input into and will never use. The few, small fee explanations on the bursar’s website are so general that the money really could be going anywhere.
To some, $1,500 may seem like a pittance, but when you’re acutely aware of just how long you’ll be repaying the loans that you’re taking out, it’s a concerning pittance.
And when it’s a pittance that thousands of other students on campus are also paying for things that aren’t fully explained to us, that pittance becomes a frightening amount of money, funneled into a black hole of mysterious services.

Moreover, all fees are subject to “change without notice by action of the Trustees of Indiana University,” a group that has shown time and again that it is woefully disconnected with student needs, with only a single student representative on it.

If there’s one thing at IU that’s been more confusing than its often-awful academic advising, it’s been trying to wade through IU’s finances. Advisers at the Office of Student Financial Assistance and the bursar’s office are notoriously terrible at explaining anything besides how to pay, if they can even do that.

There’s no one explaining why certain costs exist in the first place, perhaps because the reasoning behind them is flawed.

I call for the University to be more transparent with its students.

Bloomington Faculty Council Chief Financial Officer Neil Theobald admitted IU’s current funding formula, which is funded by a majority of students’ revenue for the first time in school history, isn’t sustainable. Out-of-state tuition is as high as it can reasonably be, and IU is turning to short-term solutions, like privatizing parking, to solve  long-term financial problems.

Perhaps if students demanded more transparency in where our mystery money goes, the University would finally be forced to take a closer look at itself.

In the real world, if certain costs can’t be explained or defended to the majority of financial backers, those incurring the costs are in hot water. And, for the first time in IU’s history, our tuition and fees make up more than 50 percent of the University’s revenue. We’re the financial backers. Our money gives us power, and we beat out other sources of funding by more than 35 percent. That means that they need to start paying attention to what we need.

Would any good customer pay an extra $1,500 for something without getting a full explanation of what the money was going towards first, much less without agreeing that this large sum went to things that were needed and useful?

President Michael McRobbie has threatened spending cuts and layoffs in the future. As much as I’ve disagreed with McRobbie in the past, perhaps these cuts are necessary. It’s time to start letting students have some input on what we’re paying for, and why.

To start, I suggest a referendum.

We can no longer avoid the fact that there is financial bloating at IU, probably funded by our mystery money. It is dragging the University down into the black hole after it, students and faculty alike.

­— kelfritz@indiana.edu

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