Simplifying and improving

Program specific fees at the University of Wyoming could redistribute tuition costs, so that students seeking more expensive degrees — such as engineering or visual and performing arts degrees — pay more than those seeking relatively cheaper degrees.

UW leaders discussed the possible program fees — which would also serve to simplify the university’s fee system and raise funds for a revamped advising system — during the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.

The proposed fee system would be more equitable, said Rob Godby, College of Business associate professor and Energy Economics and Public Policies Center director, who presented the proposal to the board.

“There’s an implicit subsidy if you’re using tuition from some programs to cover others,” Godby said. “That will never completely go away, but you would like to see that, typically, higher cost programs may address that with higher costs expected of students.”

Currently, the university’s fee book includes roughly 140 individual fees for various classes across UW’s many colleges. Some of these fees are by the credit hour, but others are a one-time fee for the course or the semester, making the average student fee difficult to find, Godby said. However, he said the average appears to be a little more than $8 per credit hour.

The proposed fee system would raise that average to more than $20, though it varies greatly by college and school.

Under the proposed system, a communications class would cost $9 per credit hour in student fees. A class offered through the Department of Music, however, would cost $31 per credit hour.

These student fees are on top of general tuition, which is far less for in-state students than non-residents. The new student fees would not discriminate between in-state and out-of-state students and would only apply to undergraduate courses.

All of UW’s competitors — and many institutions across the country — are already charging program-specific fees, Godby said.

“All of (UW’s competitors) now have course fees or program fees, unlike us,” he said.

All fees include an advising fee, which is $6 per credit hour regardless of the college it’s offered through. For example, $6 of the $9 per-credit-hour fee on communications classes goes to advising. Similarly, $6 of the $31 per credit hour in student fees for music classes goes to the same place.

The student fee proposal states revenue from the new system will go toward advising and success services available to all students.

The advising system at UW is fundamentally flawed and, if fixed, could lead to improved retention rates and student outcomes, said Anne Alexander, associate vice president for undergraduate education.

“Currently, the advising system is mostly designed in a transactional way,” she said. “It’s almost like an ATM. You walk in, you pick your classes and you walk out.”

Alexander, along with other members of an advising redesign group, are looking into how other universities tackle advising and into research detailing best practices.

Currently at UW, regular faculty members serve as advisers to students in their department. A student must meet with their adviser once a semester to pick out classes and often receives little advising help beyond this infrequent meeting.

“That is not best practice and research shows that the best way to handle advising is much more relational,” Alexander said. “It’s multidisciplinary, it’s holistic and it’s ongoing. Advising, in other words, is not course-picking.”

Godby said UW currently has the equivalent of 10 student advisers, but advising is usually just part of a faculty member’s responsibilities. The proposed student fees could give UW the equivalent of 30 advisers, Godby said. This work would be entrusted to professionals hired for the explicit purpose of advising students and otherwise contributing to their success, rather than faculty.

Professors and other instructors are oftentimes not the best people for the job, said Michael Barker, faculty senate chair, at the board meeting.

“Even good advisers don’t understand financial aid or the other components of the university,” Barker said. “If we had people whose duties were to cover all those aspects and they became a mentor to these students, our retention rates will go up.”

Student fee and advising system revamp proposals will be altered as feedback from the university community pours in throughout October. Godby said he would bring a final student fee proposal to the November board meeting.

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