Budget update: Feb. 12, 2020

February 12, 2020

Tori Tragis

— by Dan White, chancellor

The total cost of education, including student tuition and fees, is a number compared across states and jurisdictions. In the recent Board of Regents (BOR) discussion of a tuition increase, concern was expressed that if tuition was not increased, would the fiscal gap just be made up in fee increases. In order to ensure that tuition and fees are treated together and not separately, last November I asked UAF’s Tuition and Fee Committee to review our fee structure and make recommendations to reduce the number of and complexity of fees charged to students. The committee is chaired by Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Financial Services, Amanda Wall and includes Shelby Carlson, Chanachai Charoonsophonsak, Mike Earnest, Owen Guthrie, Audrey Kirby, Ali Knabe, Michael McFetridge, Jackie Morton, Terlynn Olds, Todd Sherman, Keith Swarner and Bryan Uher. You can find the January 2020 UAF Fee Structure Recommendation report (PDF) posted on my website

One of the challenges identified in our current fee structure is that different fees are assessed in different ways. While the differing modes of fee assessment makes sense from the perspective of the purpose for which each fee is charged, it can be difficult for students to predict their ultimate cost of education.  For example, some fees are course-specific or program-specific, such as materials or supplies (common for lab courses) fees. These fees can range from $50-$150 and can change with the cost of supplies. Course fees show up on a student account as an individual charge and are specific to each student’s schedule. On the other hand, some fees are charged to all students on a flat rate. These fees may further be differentiated based on location (Fairbanks Campus, CTC or community campuses) because of different services are available in the geographic regions. This can create uncertainty for students who regularly switch classes between the Fairbanks Campus, CTC, or a community campus location.

There are different philosophies about how fees should be assessed throughout higher education. Two approaches are commonly discussed. The first is a consolidated model, meaning everyone is charged the same fee rate, applied on a per credit basis. This results in a less complicated fee calculation, allowing students to more easily calculate the cost of education. However, in a consolidated fee structure, it is not always clear where fees go or the basis for fee rate changes. It is also one fee per credit whether you are taking a credit of yoga or a credit of engineering. A consolidated fee may be independent of location and so while all students have access to the same services, the services may be more or less remote from the user. In a consolidated fee model we trade transparency for simplicity. The second approach is a line item bill, showing each charge individually. While the bill in this case is more complex, it is clear where each fee is going and students have more ability to manage what fees they pay and when. Both options have pros and cons that can be managed. Over our history at UAF, we have done both. Our goal is to meet today’s students where they are philosophically on how we are assessing the fees they pay to support their education. 

The Tuition and Fee Committee was tasked with addressing the complexities of the current UAF fee structure and recommending solutions. The committee’s recommendations are posted. Before taking any action I am requesting feedback. Please email uaf.chancellor@alaska.edu with your thoughts. 

This Friday, February 14, the Board of Regents will be holding an Audit Committee meeting. One of the items to be discussed is student fees and the fee setting strategy. I’ll share more about the outcomes of that meeting in a later column. I encourage you to stream that part of the meeting if fee setting is of particular interest to you.

Thank you for choosing UAF.