Monday, September 26, 2011

Student Fees (The Other Tuition)

I know I haven't been participating in the blog much lately, but my research has been moving and I also have a new addition to my family that takes up a lot of my time and effort. I have a few ideas for posts that I have been working on and will hopefully get them posted soon (Spoiler: They include topics such as Faraday Rotation, Philosophy as Science, measuring band gaps, and others).

So on to today's topic: Student Fees.

I am bringing up this topic because the issue of student fees has recently become a hot topic here at UNC. Due to budget concerns the University has been dealing with ways of reducing the money spent by the University. Here in North Carolina the state education budget was cut, meaning that the operating budget of the University was impacted. To compensate they raised tuition, but there is a state statute that says that tuition raises will be capped at 6.5%/year. So they raised tuition but it still wasn't enough to cover costs. So they decided to get inventive and raise student fees to compensate.

So here's the deal. In the physics department our tuition and tuition remission (for out-of-state students) are paid for by either the department, research funds, an/or the graduate school. In addition to this we also receive a stipend, mainly because we are "employees" (i.e. we teach or do research). It isn't much but it is supposed to be enough so that we can live.

The problem comes in with student fees. Student fees are not paid for by my department, but are paid for out of our stipends. This would not be a problem except for the fact that our student fees keep going up, and usually for things that graduate students do not use, or think are completely useless. The most recent proposal would raise our fees by more than $100 per semester and bring our total fees to just over $2200/year, which is significant considering we are only paid ~$22,000/year.

This proposed fee increase (especially for things that graduate students do not use, and in general do not think should be funded by student fees) is generating significant push back from graduate students. As part of our effort we are attempting to gather information about "peer institutions" and how they handle student fees. We are collecting this data to present to the committee that governs student fee increases to show that currently UNC is on the extreme high end of student fees compared to its peer institutions. If we can demonstrate that UNC is out of the norm for student fees then we will have a case to say that the Athletics Department should not be funded by student fees to pay for tutors that write the reports and do the homework of our "student" athletes.

So if you are willing could you send me information about your department, and how they handle student fees. We are looking for information about annual stipend, how much your student fees are (and any differences, for example, do your fees change after passing the qual?), and how they are paid for (i.e. by the department, by the student, by your adviser etc.). If you aren't in a physics department please also let me know what department you are in.

You can leave a comment with the information, or you can email me directly. My email is just the name that I post under and then Easy enough. Any other relevant information would be appreciated (as in how do different departments at your schools handle student fees? Is is different form department to department or is it the same? How does your stipend increase, if it increases?).

On a completely unrelated note, I thought I would share this cool video with you guys. It has nothing to do with student fees whatsoever, and is only indirectly about physics.


  1. Okay, I'll bite:
    To be clear upfront, I think I'm in a particularly nice situation at a really great university with an enormous endowment (so the state budget woes in Michigan have not had a tremendous effect on us). So my experience may not represent the norm. As a sidenote, if you can possibly imagine this, many research assistants are lobbying to form a union. It gained so much traction, it is being put to a vote. That way we can pay a fee to some organization that will supposedly fight to get us something we don't already have. It's insane given how well we are treated here. Anyway, having said that (information taken from
    University of Michigan
    College of Engineering
    Aerospace Dept.
    For one full term the fees are:
    Registration Fee: $80
    Michigan Student Assembly: $7.19
    Student Legal Services: $8.50
    School and College Gov't: $1.50
    Health Services Fee: $172.40
    Infrastructure Maintenance Fee: $185
    Total: $454.59

    I imagine most grad students here attend two full terms a year, so our fees are around $900 for a year. That doesn't include health insurance costs or tuition, only student fees. In addition to this, until last year, grad students benefits stopped for the summer break (that is, no access to the gym for free, no access to student legal services, no access to the health center, etc.). But they changed it this year, and now we have all the benefits year round.

    In addition, I have health insurance from the University that utilizes U of Michigan's hospital and health system. All of this, the tuition, the fees, the stipend, and the health insurance is paid by someone other than me. The University (well, at least the college of engineering) has a funding guarantee, that is, if you're accepted here as a grad student you are guaranteed funding for the duration of your degree. I believe my first year was paid for by a fellowship from the Rackham Graduate School. Now, it is paid by my advisor via an NSF grant. I probably can't offer many more details than that since I don't closely track any of this.

    I hope that's helpful. As far as I can tell, I have approximately the sweetest deal I've seen. I interviewed at other schools, and no one paid research assistants as well as U of M (we make just over $25,000/year), nor did they have as many benefits (i.e. health insurance).

  2. In my department (not physics) our stipends are considerably less (around 60% of yours). My fees work out to about $1700 per year (3 semesters) - $70.72 per credit, per semester. We are required to take 9 (Fall), 9 (Spring), 6 (Summer) credits (total of $1768). I had a fellowship that paid fees in addition to tuition but now my assistantship does not cover fees; my mentor does through a grant, thankfully.

  3. I guess I've got a really good situation here.  We receive about $22,000 per year.  My student fees are only around $400 per semester out of pocket, and some of that is even refundable if you bother to go in and request it.  (Graduate students here receive a lot of waivers and credits in this regard.)  Most of those fees goes to support university administrative and overhead charges.  There are some additional fees that support various scholarships, renewability initiatives, campus newspapers, arts funding, various student organizations, and the bus passes. 

  4. Sorry I'm so slow on this but I wanted to get the exact numbers.  CU does very well in terms of stipends for doctoral candidates, which in my department is normally after 5 semesters (2 1/2 years).  The average is $31,842 for doctoral candidates and $26,213 prior to that.

    Fees are as follows:

    Student Information Fee (SIS): $7.00
    Student Computing Fee : six credit hours or fewer  $33.62

                                             seven credit hours of more $67.24
    Arts and Cultural Enrichment Fee  $10.00

    Bus and Bike Programs Fee  $78.00
    UGGS Grad Fee  $4.50

    Capital Construction Fee: Six credit hours or fewer $100.00
                                             Seven credit hours or more $200.00

    That leads to a total for pre-candidacy students of $366.74 while post-candidacy students pay $233.12.

    I should also note that our RA/TA appointments here only cover 70% of the student's health insurance costs and nothing for spouses or dependents (although insurance is made available), so for grad students over age 26 or those with families, health insurance is a significant chuck of change.  For myself and my daughter (my wife is on a separate plan) that comes to about $5,000 per year just for the premiums.

    Finally, Colorado state law actually prohibits the use of grant money to pay for student fees, so fees are legally required to come from grad student's pockets.

  5. I forgot to mention - the fees are all per semester and we have two semesters per year.


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