By RACHEL EMERSON, VICTORIA SCHNAUFER, JAKE GOODMAN & COLLIN STORK, Student Reporters
Northwestern is known as the cheapest four-year university in Oklahoma but cheap tuition comes at the cost of higher fees.
Oklahoma faces a crisis with the funding of education as a whole. Northwestern Oklahoma State University received a 16.4 percent cut in funding on June 30, 2016. This cut bumped tuition costs to attend the university up 19 dollars more per credit hour. Along with tuition, students at Northwestern are charged fees each semester, though it is not always clear where those fees are being applied. An anonymous survey was used to determine just how closely students pay attention to their fees and how satisfied they are with the services they receive for them. The survey results represent approximately sixteen percent of the entire student body on all of Northwestern’s campuses, including those in Alva, Enid, Woodward and Ponca City.
The initial breakdown or concept of the fees may seem complicated to the average student, but the fees themselves are used to cover amenities which are not covered in the school’s tuition. Dr. David Pecha, Vice-President of Administration at Northwestern, was willing to break down some of the fees, explain how they are split up, who sees the money, what expenses the money cover and how the fees are created in the first place or even changed. Pecha explained that the numbers are tracked. Each department on campus has a budget administrator, and it is up to that person to keep track of how the money is being spent for each individual department.
The fees are usually applied to benefit the campus; one fee that Northwestern students pay is the parking and safety fee, which is a total of $25 per semester. The parking and safety fee serves to manage parking lots, upgrade and add electrical sources, and repair sidewalks. Of the 127 students who participated in the anonymous survey, twenty-four percent were dissatisfied, while thirty percent were strongly dissatisfied, with the services provided through these particular fees. One of the biggest complaints among students was that while they are paying fees for parking, parking itself is very crowded on campus, making it difficult for many students to find parking spaces.
Others were concerned about paying parking and safety fees during the summer while not even staying on campus.
Pecha explained that parking and safety involves more than the school’s parking lots. The money from this fee is often used to buy lights and other materials needed across campus to make it a safer place, especially for students walking mostly in the dark after late-night classes.
“The money is used to clear the parking lots from snow at Enid and Woodward to clear campus,” he said. Students are still charged over the summer so that the campus has the funds to protect them properly, even outside of class. Students who have online classes only do not pay this fee.
In addition to the parking and safety fee, students are also required to pay activity fees. The student activity fee supports activities that provides students with extracurricular, cultural and recreational opportunities. Participants were 22 percent dissatisfied and 28 percent strongly dissatisfied. Over half of the students who participated in the survey admitted they either rarely or never participated in campus events, nor did many of them belong to any organizations on campus.
“It’s kind of annoying how much I pay for student activity fees, yet I have never been to any of the activities,” one anonymous participant said. “I can’t help but feel like I’m paying a lot for something I’ve never used and it’s a bit frustrating.”
Half of the students who participated in the survey never visit the campus library during the week; only 33% make use of the campus library once or twice a week, while 12 percent manage to make it three or four times a week. A large portion of students, 63 percent of those who took the survey, are enrolled in ITV classes. The technology and library service fees provide financial support in order to fund computer labs, ITV studios, computer supplies, lab monitors, and library materials. The results show that number of students satisfied with these fees was equal to the number of students unsatisfied with the services they receive from the library and technology services fee.
Other fees required of every student include the enhancement fee, facility fee and electronic media fee. Student reactions to these fees were pretty equal across the board, with approximately fifty percent strongly dissatisfied to dissatisfied, thirty percent neutral, and twenty percent satisfied to strongly satisfied.
There are also some fees that are divided by what the student is charged with depending on what courses they decide to take. For example, all science labs have a fee attached to them; the money is spent on lab supplies. The student is off-setting the cost of those supplies by paying fees for that class. Only the students taking those classes pay their fees, so each department’s budget is very dependent on students as well as faculty. On the other hand, the tech service fee is a mandatory fee. Every student that enrolls pays it as an hourly fee, and it is used to update the school’s technology. Online fees are used to pay for online education, as well as Blackboard and staff support.
Although many students had complaints about the fees, especially when they felt as though the fees were not worth what they received, most students understand the need for these fees and why they’re important to Northwestern’s desire to stay one of the cheapest universities in Oklahoma.
“I don’t have a problem with campus fees,” said Taylor Johnson, a junior studying English Education. “They’re completely reasonable. I hear people complain about all the fees they pay, but I started college at OSU. There you pay fees for squirrels, for grass, and for everything else under the sun. In one semester, a student might pay upwards of $1,000 in fees alone. At Northwestern, you might pay a couple hundred. I don’t see any kind of problem with that.”
Many of the specific complaints pulled from the survey were not about the amount of the fee, but rather what students feel they are getting for their money.
“In general, I understand the fees,” said Chad Woods, a junior Psychology student. “It helps to keep other services on campus running with maintenance and paying employees. They also do an okay job listing what the fees include, which helps me understand where the money is going. I would prefer a way to opt out of those services I do not use, and simply lose access to using them unless I decide to later pay that fee though, but that would probably be fairly complicated and hard to enforce.”
Over the years, Northwestern fees haven’t increased much. The university can only ask for an increase once a year, and the state board is the only group that can decide whether to add or increase the amount of a fee. Pecha revealed that Northwestern has made some adjustments to student fees.
“For the 11 to 12 years I have been fiscal P.E., Northwestern has always tried to keep tuition and fees as low as possible, but have what is needed for the students, such as laptops and printers,” he said. “Even though our fees are costly, they are lower than other schools in the state.”
All universities have fees that students are required to pay, from university parking fees to online course fees. These fees range in price depending on certain things, such as whether the fees is for an online course, what amenities they are being used for, or how many classes a student is taking.
The Regional University System of Oklahoma (RUSO) schools consists of East Central University, Northeastern State University, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and the University of Central Oklahoma.
Of these schools, Northwestern is the cheapest school tuition-wise, but leans toward the more expensive side of fees. For example, Northwestern has a parking fee of $35, while other RUSO schools are between $20 and $30.
Other fees that are applied to student’s bills can include development fees, instruction fees, and telecourse fees. A development fee is based on credit hours and aids in the development and bettering of the courses, like adding new technology in a lab setting or just simply new desks in a lecture course, if the fee is applied.
UCO has enhancement fees that are preset for each course a student takes, for example, if a student takes a Business Administration course, they will pay $45.22, while a student taking the same course at Northwestern will pay $7.00 per hour.
Instruction fees are optional; they are applied if the student requests a tutor in a specific course. Not every student pays these fees because not every student needs tutoring in classes. Telecourse fees apply to students taking ITV courses, or courses that are broadcast from other campuses.
A fee that every student pays is a parking fee, which goes to the improvement of the parking lots and buys students a parking decal to allow them to park on campus in designated areas. Other RUSO schools have fees such as Southwestern’s supplies fee, which differs from course to course, and pays for necessary access to supplies. East Central has a Cultural Act fee that is applied to all student’s bills and allows discounted entrance to Native American shows and exhibits in the area. A portion of this fee, based on number of credit hours taken on campus, is donated to the Chickasaw Tribe.
All RUSO schools charge fees that are identical for remedial courses and International students, but differ in most everything else. The one exception to the remedial fees comes from UCO, where they charge $49 for a math or science remedial course, as opposed to the $20 for other courses.
RUSO sets cap prices for how much a certain fee can be, but doesn’t control any specific charges. Southwestern’s main campus charges students $3.50 to take a course on Sayre’s campus while other RUSO schools do not charge students to take courses on other campuses.
At Northeastern, the enhancement fee for the nursing is a mere $25 per hour, compared to Northwestern’s $60 per hour charge. This is mostly because Northeastern is a primary Optometry school, while Northwestern is well-known for its nursing program.
Fees that are charged by departments are discussed within the department then given to the school board, if the school board approves, they send it to RUSO for finalizing. Once RUSO answers, they can begin to use that updated fee price.
It is important to know the funding of higher education as a whole in the state of Oklahoma is being questioned by the legislator and budget cuts are being made where they deem fit. While many students might be unaware of where their fees are being applied, Northwestern is striving to not continuously raise tuition and takes cuts in other ways first. Following the 16 percent budget cut presented last summer Northwestern’s president Janet Cunningham said, “Raising tuition and fees was a difficult decision, but we must protect the core academic functions of the institution and maintain the academic and support services required by students if we are to remain competitive.”