By Morgan Schmidt and Jerice Boston
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
The college application process is officially underway and, just like fall temperatures, bank accounts are also dipping. High school seniors around the nation are quickly discovering the costly truth of higher education: Some of those big bucks they are spending may land in areas they don’t like.
Maryland’s in-state college tuition for the 2016-2017 academic year is about $14,884, but the tab does not include the mountain of mandatory fees that go towards auxiliary services, the student government association, technology and athletics. This U.S. Department of Education report compares 52 schools.
Very few of Towson University students agree with the way the University System of Maryland distributes the money.
“I feel like if I’m not attending the event then I shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Kyshira Simmons, 18, a junior transfer who is spending her first year at Towson.
“I don’t know any specific events,” she admitted. “But maybe like football and stuff, if part of my tuition is going to a football game that I’m not attending, then I shouldn’t really have to pay for it.”
Lawmakers in Wisconsin and Minnesota have recently sponsored legislation that would allow students to opt out of required fees that go towards campus organizations and amenities that they may not support or utilize.
For Katherine “Kat” Blake, this is a step in the right direction. The forensics major is a junior at Towson University who does not meet the requirements to apply for financial aid. As a commuter, Blake does not ride the shuttle and is puzzled by the fact that she still has to pay for it in addition to climbing gas prices and a $400 parking permit.
“I think there is a fine line between services and clubs in terms of how the student fees should be used,” said Greg Faller, associate dean of Fine Arts and Communication at Towson.
As a Towson University faculty member of long standing, tuition costs for his son – who graduates this spring – are covered. The Faller family is not exempt, however, from paying student fees.
“I have a sense of their significance,” Faller said, continuing on to explain how the concept is similar to a tax. “You are paying your tuition and, if you’re living on campus, you’re paying for room and board as well. Some of those fees, however, like taxes, are providing resources that you do need.”
These resources include religious, political and philosophical groups, that are only able to pull funds from students if they maintain a level of inclusiveness, according to Maryland State Law. This means that Hillel, Towson’s Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Organization, must accept a prospective member even when they identify as Christian, and vice versa.
Kyle Jackson, a 20-year-old Mass Communication major from Prince George’s County, Md., underscored that sentiment while acknowledging “I don’t know what my student activities fee goes towards.” However, he stessed “I don’t want my money going towards any discriminatory clubs on campus.”
It is not a matter of restricting freedom of speech, Faller said, but instead a matter of maintaining a healthy, diverse campus. Undergraduates, like Towson junior Maravia Proctor, are not convinced.
“If I am not involved in something, or it doesn’t interest me, in particular, I shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Proctor, who majors in mass communication.
Malcolm Kline, executive director of Accuracy in Academia, agreed.
“I’ve questioned student fees ever since I was a student” at New York’s University of Scranton decades ago, he said. “Honestly I couldn’t tell you what dollar amount they came to. But we got to vote on what fees were paid and whether they were increased. If you wanted to join College Democrats or College Republicans, you paid the fee. I don’t see why such groups are now under general student population.”
Kline said he is pleased that the debates are circulating around campus: “I am a big believer in everything being out in the open.”
Since 2000, college fees have risen 95 percent at public four-year institutions and 61 percent at private universities, according to a study by Robert Kelchen, assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.
Statistics have shown that Americans owe more than $1.45 trillion in student loan debt, which is about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt, according to the Board of Governors. Kelchen said his study found that even fees of a new hundred dollars can cause low-income students to quit school.
“I don’t think they should just automatically charge every student for these extracurricular activities,” said Carson Smith, a Towson sophomore. “…Especially if that person specifically isn’t going to partake in those activities.”
If given a choice, however, students may choose activities and organizations that they are familiar with, said Faller.
“And if part of the college experience is being exposed to multiple perspectives,” said Faller, “I think that’s limiting.”
Grayson Osborne, a Towson junior, said he believes that the additional fees help provide an enhanced learning experience. Having available funds to repair buildings and upgrade technology increases the quality of the University for everyone, said Osborne.
From the university’s perspective, Faller said, it’s really a matter of keeping things in a way that’s more efficient.
Staff Writers Taariq Adams, Alexander Best, Seanne Coates, and Alexander Muldrow also contributed to this article