The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees will consider a proposal next week to implement new program fees in the fall.
With the state of Wyoming cutting funding to agencies across the board in the last two years, UW has grappled with a more than $42 million reduction in state funding. UW’s costs to students are among the lowest in the nation for comparable institutions. To offer that value, it depends heavily on state support.
In order to avoid sacrificing the quality of UW’s education and its broad set of programs, a new set of program-specific fees are being proposed for the trustee’s consideration, said Rob Godby, economics professor and chair of the two committees charged with creating the proposal.
“The idea behind the program fees is, unfortunately, we have to do something,” Godby said. “The idea we came up with is a bit of a burden sharing, but the way we look at it is, at the end of the day, we can do this without asking too much and delivering more.”
The proposed set of program fees are based on the differential costs of each program and would be assessed on a credit hour basis common to both resident and nonresident students. Programs where it costs more to educate students, such as engineering, would call for higher fees. Revenue from the fees would go to maintaining programs and improving student outcomes in retention rates, graduation rates and career readiness.
“We’re going to be an effective institution that will not only be the best value because we’re among the most affordable, but the best value because we bring more to the students than other institutions like us can,” Godby said.
Godby said there are four reasons program fees were preferred by UW instead of a general tuition increase: Program fees would be charged to programs that cost more to deliver, and he said students in those programs could be expected to pay more. Godby said Students in higher-cost programs often understand different programs have different benefits, whether it comes down to personal preferences for different disciplines or recognizing certain careers lead to higher-paying jobs. There is also the option to take courses with lower program fee costs, which Godby said they could not avoid with a general tuition increase. Finally, he said a flat tuition rate increase would effectively mean students in low-cost programs, such as English, would subsidize higher-cost programs, such as engineering.
“Most schools in the country already use this sort of differential tuition, including all of our nearest peers,” Godby said. “We are among the last schools to consider it. When tuition comparisons are done across schools, usually program fees are not included because they are difficult to include in the data. … So, in fact, UW is even more affordable than those tuition comparisons suggest.”
The UW Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet Wednesday-Friday. For the program fees to be implemented in time for the upcoming fall semester, the trustees would need to vote to support the proposal during those meetings, said Chad Baldwin, UW director of institutional communication.
“In order for these fees to go into effect in fall 2017, there would need to be action at this board meeting,” Baldwin said.
Board of Trustees President John MacPherson said he’s not certain whether he would support the fees until he has all the necessary information at next week’s meeting.
“I need to hear the report and the recommendation and have all the information before me before I can make a decision,” he said.
A critical part of the proposal’s process is gathering student and public input, Godby said. After numerous news releases, dozens of public meetings and more, he said they are calling one more time for comments. An informational video and link to an email for comments can be found at www.uwyo.edu/president/budget_planning/rec/index.html.
“We are open to comments — we want to hear comments,” Godby said. “The second thing is we really just want people to be aware of this. The trustees reflect the state, and they don’t want to be making a decision the state’s not aware of.”
Though comment submissions and attendance at meetings has been scarce, a student survey was conducted with more than 900 students completing it, Godby said. The results, he said, were surprising.
“To be honest, we were not expecting it would go well,” Godby said. “In fact, a majority of students are not against it, which was a shock to us.”
Overall, just less than 16 percent of students responded in support of fee increases. But only 43 percent responded they would definitely not support the fees. Just more than 40 percent of students said “maybe.” When broken down by college, Godby points out that in some colleges where the fees are the highest, such as the College of Business and College of Education, the support was higher. While there weren’t a lot of “yes” responses for some colleges, there was a lot of “maybe,” which Godby said is positive because the respondents aren’t necessarily opposed to the proposal.
“It was not linear with fees,” he said. “The support for fees was not proportionate to the level of fees. What we think is going on is students are beginning to understand what’s happening. Nobody’s happy about it, but a lot are realizing they get an awful lot here. If this can be done the way we’re suggesting, they can actually live with that.”
By the numbers:
$369: Average additional amount proposed program fees will add to students’ costs per semester
Average cost per semester with proposed program fees:
$698: Chemical engineering
$212: Political Science
Cost of tuition
$14,616: Annual instructional cost for full-time student at UW
$4,646: Tuition and fees paid by full-time in-state undergraduate student
$13,738: Annual instructional cost for full-time student at comparator institutions
$10,020: Average of tuition and fees for full-time student at comparator institutions*
73 percent: Ratio of instruction cost covered by students
Figures from fiscal year 2014, All figures refer to costs of in-state undergraduate programs.
*Based on 2014 academic year calendar
Proposed program fees estimated revenue generation:
$7.7 million: Total annual revenue
$3 million: Allocated to new student success programs, such as professional advising
$4.7 million: Allocated to preserving and improving programs and instruction*
*Also covers $1.8 million in current fees proposed fees would replace
Figures based on if proposed program fees were in place for 2015-2016 academic year
Proposed program fee student survey results:
31.6 percent: Familiar with proposed program fees
23.3 percent: Not familiar with proposal
44.9 percent: “A little” familiar with proposal
1,096: Number of respondents
15.8 percent: Supportive of increase in program fees
43 percent: Not supportive of increase
40.7: “Maybe” supportive of increase
934: Number of respondents*
*Some students did not complete the entire survey
Highest ratio of unsupportive responses for proposed program fees in student survey by college:
53.6 percent: College of Engineering and Applied Science
50.5 percent: College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
42.5 percent: College of Arts and Sciences
38.4 percent: College of Health Sciences
34.8 percent: College of Business
Student survey support for programming paid for by proposed program fees:
93 percent: Technology improvements
92 percent: Seat guarantees
84 percent: Professional advising