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Tuition cost: Where it’s really going

By Chelsea LoCascio                                                                                        Opinions Editor

Lofty loans. Government grants. Searching for scholarships. Many students had to seek several alternatives to money in order to attend the College this fall. In just the first semester, many freshmen already find themselves in the hole a hefty sum, yet do they really know for what they are taking the money out?

The looming debt does not scare freshman physics and secondary education double major Kevin Shaw, as he knew this was coming from day one.

“I haven’t necessarily felt anything different. I always knew this was happening and I knew that I was going to have to pay some ridiculous amount of money at some point in my life for a period of time,” Shaw said. “Maybe in a couple years, I’ll actually feel it once (the debt) triples or quadruples, but right now it’s really not anything.”

According to collegescorecard.gov, 52 percent of freshmen at the College had to take out loans. Shaw is one of many that have accepted the challenge of paying for their education, but these students want something in return: clarity and transparency.

Shaw, alongside other students in debt, turn to the “Account Inquiry” section of PAWS and cannot understand what the loans they will be paying off for years are actually going toward during their time at the College.

According to tcnj.edu, there are 6,580 full-time students with 95 percent of them being from New Jersey. For this reason, any references to prices refer to the majority: full-time and in-state students.

Sticker versus Net Price

The reality of tuition costs might not hit until students or their parents are staring at the upcoming semester’s bill for the first time.

“People say that this college is very reasonable,” Shaw said. “But it doesn’t feel very reasonable because it’s (approximately) $24,000 plus (other expenses). The fact that this is a reasonable college and it’s so expensive is just silly.”

Like Shaw, some students may feel misled upon entering what they thought was a fairly priced college. There may be some discrepancies between the perceived price of attendance (the sticker price) opposed to what students actually pay (the net price). However, the final prices are determined by senior management in consultation with the Board of Trustees, according to Director of Media Relations Mark Gola.

“The Board of Trustees takes very seriously its responsibility to review the annual TCNJ budget proposal, including the establishment of tuition and fees,” Gola said. “We are very sensitive to the financial burden on families as the cost of higher education increases.”

Gola assures that the College utilizes resources to provide students with tuition support.

Board of Trustees Chair Jorge Caballero expressed similar views to Gola, explaining how the College allocates its resources.

“(We have) excellent academic and support service programs that prepare students for employment and graduate school, and support the fifth highest four-year graduation rate of public institutions of higher education in the United States,” Caballero said.

When looking at the costs to attend the College on its admission website, students must part with an estimated $12,000 for room and board as well as another $15,446 for tuition and fees each academic year, according to tcnj.edu. Yet Student Accounts’ itemization of meal plan prices shows that the net price of the eight different total room and board fees actually ranges from $10,231.06 (room plus the a la carte apartment plan) to $13,271.42 (room and the carte blanche meal plan).

The actual price of tuition for the 2015-’16 academic year is $10,878.96, but the other miscellaneous fees total $4,587.12, according to Student Accounts. For Shaw, the makeup of room and board as well as tuition is common sense, but for others it may not be so clear.

According to Gola, tuition pays for things like the faculty and staff salaries, grounds and building maintenance and scholarships and waivers. In other words — forms of financial assistance that do not require repayment.

If tuition comprises about 70 percent of the College’s estimated $15,446, then what fees make up the remaining 30 percent?

Bill Breakdown

Though it may seem clear to some students what they are paying for every semester, others, like Shaw, are not confident in what those miscellaneous fees on the bill mean.

“There are a couple (fees) that are obvious, a couple that aren’t so obvious,” Shaw said as he looked at his bill in PAWS.

Students can find definitions of these fees on the Student Accounts website. According to Student Accounts, the student service fee funds for health services and athletics, among other organizations. The student activity charge is collected and handled by the Student Finance Board. SFB allocates the student activity fee funds to different clubs and organizations to host activities, conferences and programs on campus that benefit the entire student body.

Then there is the card service fee, which is used toward card access across campus, according to Student Accounts.

“The College pays an annual maintenance fee for the Blackboard software system, which enables students to use their card to access meal plans, residence halls, library services, admission to events etc.,” Gola said. “If the card is lost, there is (an additional) replacement fee to re-issue a new card.”

Though these other fees seem clear, Soniya Reddy, a sophomore accounting major, finds Student Accounts’ definition of the computer access fee too vague and does not understand why some students have to pay for it even if they use their own laptops.

Student Accounts states that the computer access “is used partially to fund the computing infrastructure throughout the campus… this fee enables the College to provide critical access and other technology services necessary for students to succeed in their academic majors.”

However, according to Gola, the College is in the process of improving the Wi-Fi access across campus, which this fee helps fund.

“(The fees) all seem to make sense, except for maybe the general service one,” Shaw said after looking over Student Accounts’ definitions. “I don’t know exactly what it does.”

While confusing to some, the office defines the general service fee as the one that funds “the annual debt service requirements relating to educational and general (E&G) facilities, in-addition to funding the capital plan that addresses the continuing asset renewal of existing E&G facilities.”

“The general service fee funds the construction, restoration and maintenance of various student and academic facilities on campus,” Gola said. “It’s also used to fund the annual debt service (principal and interest) when (the College) borrows money to finance construction or renovation of academic, administrative or athletics facilities.”

After learning that her money partially goes toward campus construction, Reddy was disappointed.

“They shouldn’t be using (our money) for construction without telling us,” Reddy said. Though the definition states that this fee does go toward construction, Reddy did not think this was explicit.

The fee that struck the biggest nerve for Reddy was the one for the Brower Student Center, as students’ money goes toward the operations, as well as its construction.

“(It’s under) construction, so we don’t even go there a lot,” Reddy said. “They took out The Rathskeller and… we don’t really go there that much now. I honestly feel like they should cut down the fees after (starting construction) last semester.”

According to PAWS, the student center fee is at an all-time high of $124.50 for the fall semester.

“I only got to (fully use) the student center for a year and that makes me uncomfortable because I’m paying for something now… and I’m paying for it next semester and the following semester and I don’t get to use it as much,” Reddy said.

In response to similar comments made by other students, Gola explained the increased cost.

“The student center fee was increased as a result of the student center budget development process,” he said. “Current renovations taking place do cause some temporary inconveniences, but once the project is completed, it will provide additional amenities for students to experience.”

The student center is not anticipated to be complete until summer of 2017, according to the Student Center Manager Seth Zolin in a previous Signal article from Wednesday, Aug. 26.

While some have expressed concern and anger about having to pay for the student center while it is no longer as easily accessible, others don’t appear to mind.

“I don’t necessarily care,” Shaw said. “(However), I don’t think I should have to pay for things that I don’t use,” Shaw said.

The Bill’s Burden

Attending college in America has become synonymous to inevitable lifelong debt for some students who cannot pay the price for their education upfront.

“(The College) should cut down the costs of pretty much everything,” Reddy said. “I feel like it’s just a little too expensive.”

While students can understand why tuition is pricey, it doesn’t make the cost of paying off loans any easier.

“I feel like it shouldn’t be so expensive… you kind of need (college) to (get) ahead, or that’s what people assume,” Shaw said.

For students like Shaw who will have to personally pay off his debt, he cannot fathom why prices have become so high.

While students like Shaw and Reddy understand why they are charged these fees, the burden still takes a heavy toll on them and other students here at the College, alike.

1 COMMENT

  1. I could not agree more with you Ms. LoCascio. Being a Father of five children three of which are through college. I get frustrated with the schools shoulder shrug of well that’s what it costs to go here type attitude when it comes to fees and tuitions. I understand operating costs and salaries but being fare and realistic seems to have gone out the window at most schools. I work in an firm where I see many young people graduating with what amounts to a mortgage payment for their loans is completely ridiculous. Maybe taking a hard look at what the administration of these colleges make as compared to the incomes of their student population demographic. I think your article is a good eye opener for students and parents alike. If anything it will make them question these mysterious fees and where the money is actually going.
    Thanks!

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