Don’t crucify graduate students on a cross of fees

srichardsWhen I was an undergraduate, I worked four jobs.

I worked at the CSC Print Shop, at the Sandoz Center, at Wreckers Roadhouse, and as an assistant to the geography professor.

Between those jobs, my savings before I got to college, and a little help from my folks, I graduated without debt.

I won’t be able to say the same as a graduate student.

You see, when I signed the contract to become a graduate student, the contract said that I had a tuition waiver. It did, however, state that I was responsible for all fees. It seemed a reasonable deal: paying the student activity fees, the technology fees, etc., is a minor cost and only fair.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I owed more than $700.

After talking it over with the Business Office, Human Resources and Accounts Due, I discovered that about half of that $700 is “tuition fees.” Apparently, we have to pay about $50 a credit hour for the “benefit” of having online classes, and that’s credited as a “tuition fee.”

It is used to pay for Sakai, which makes sense — as any professor or student can tell you, Sakai never messes up in any way whatsoever, and Sakai is so much more costly than sticking classes in a physical room that has to be heated, cooled and cleaned and where you have to pay full-time faculty to teach it.

Wait, no, that’s the opposite of true.

Here are the facts. In a study by Tana Bishop of the University of Maryland University College, done at the University of California, Davis, found that the cost per passing student to the college was $105 for a face-to-face course and only $99 for online courses. The college is saving money on online classes. However, the incremental costs of online courses grow more slowly for online courses than they do for face-to-face courses, so a thousand more students taking online classes would cost the college a lot less than a thousand more students taking face-to-face classes.

Not only that, but online classes aren’t as useful as they seem. A study by J. Moody in The Quarterly Review of Distance Education shows that students drop out of online classes at a greater rate than face-to-face classes.

Add into all of this that most graduate classes are only offered online, and a clear picture emerges: the college bait-and-switches its graduate students with “tuition fees” they can’t avoid, and offers them a lesser educational product in exchange.

This is important because the online-only model that the state college system is switching to relies on graduate assistants and adjunct professors. Full-time, tenured professors are increasingly a rarity in the system, and those that remain are spread thinner and thinner, and rely more upon graduate assistants to carry out undergraduate classes.

This is a task we’re happy to do. Not only are we dedicated to furthering our own education, but we want to help others succeed too. I have to say that my job is rewarding in a way that none other I’ve had has been. When I see the students in my department progress, I feel like my work has worth that no other job I’ve done possesses.

However, it remains that I, and the other graduate assistants, shouldn’t have to go into debt to do it. The state college system depends on us, and will do so even further as time goes on. It shouldn’t lawyer and squirm out of its contractual obligations to us. “Tuition fees” are tuition. Waive them.

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