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September 12, 2002

Fee hikes drive up class costs for staff & faculty who are students

Although faculty and staff can take classes at a fraction of the cost for traditional students, Pitt employees still are feeling the sting of higher prices this fall.

Due largely to escalating fees, the cost for a staff or faculty member taking a 3-credit class at Pitt is almost 2 1/2 times what it was five years ago.

Last month, the University approved a 14 percent increase in tuition for in-state residents. Pitt also raised some of its required student fees, three of which are charged to employees who enroll for classes here.

The computing and network services fee for part-time students was increased for the first time in five years, more than doubling from $30 to $65 per term.

The security, safety and transportation fee was raised by more than a third this year, going from $55 to $75 per term for all students. The fee is almost five times what it was in 1997-1998 ($16 per term).

Two student fees were not raised this year: the student activity fee ($18 per term), which all students must pay, and the student health fee ($130 per term), which is waived for part-time students at the Pittsburgh campus. The student activity fee has more than tripled in five years, from $5 to $18 per term.

Some members of the Staff Association Council (SAC) have challenged the need for the increase in fees — indeed, the need for some of the fees at all.

Provost James Maher said the senior administration is considering a request from SAC President Barbara Mowery that the computing fee be waived for staff members who take classes. No decision has been made on the request, Maher said.

Carol Hodgkiss of the Neuro-Learning Research Center, who co-chairs SAC's benefits and welfare committee, said, "Staff are a different group from students. Why not have different rules?" Hodgkiss said she has heard complaints about the fees from fellow staff members who take classes here.

One complainant, Amy Hewitt, an audio-visual coordinator, was hired at Pitt in 1999 after earning her undergraduate degree here. "I understand having student fees from when I was an undergraduate," Hewitt said. "Students are eligible for certain activities. For example, I used to go the museums for free with my student I.D. Now as a staff member, I have to pay. And yet I still pay the student activity fee when I'm [enrolled] in a class."

Staff and faculty who take classes do not receive student I.D.s, which means they usually are ineligible for special student discounts and benefits.

SAC member Jeanie Goff, communications manager in University Marketing Communications, said she is galled by the computing and network services fee. "It doesn't make sense to me that I have the same access to the computing labs as a staff member as I do as a student, and I have to pay for it when I enroll in a class," Goff said.

"I have an account which gives me access to the computer labs and a 900 sheet quota [per term] for printing at the labs. It is the same situation for a staff member as a student. I now have to pay $65 for the account which I was given for free as a staff employee. I don't think that's fair."

"Why not eliminate this fee if we get the benefit as staff anyway?" queried Hodgkiss. She noted that the student health fee is waived for employee-students because the University offers health benefits options to employees.

In a written statement to the University Times, Provost Maher indicated there are other considerations:

* "First, a very large majority of the staff who are registered as students collect the free software, which is available to students and available to other University employees only for a fee;

* "Second, a significant number of staff students make use of the public laboratories and the printing facilities;

* "Third, staff who have access to a University computer by virtue of their work do not have that access automatically for course work but must seek their supervisors' permission to use their computers in that way, and

* "Finally, staff students are already receiving a very significant scholarship, which is not available to the other students of the University."

SAC's Mowery said she was frustrated last January while lobbying against an increase in the computing services fee for employees taking classes. "I didn't have the information at that time to say how many staff take classes," Mowery said.

She said the Board of Trustees student affairs committee recommended increasing the fee from $30 to $65 for all students, including employees, partly because they believed that only a small number of employees would be affected.

About 13 percent of Pitt's employees took at last one University course last year, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Of Pitt's approximately 10,500 total employees, 1,037 staff and 347 faculty members used the educational benefit themselves in the last academic year.

During the 2001-2002 academic year, 2,091 employees used educational benefits at Pitt campuses for themselves, spouses or dependent children, or in combination, according to Institutional Research.

Some 542 Pitt staff and 283 faculty used the benefit to provide tuition remission for their spouses and/or dependent children (including some employees who also used benefits for themselves), according to Robert Goga, assistant director of Institutional Research.

Tuition charges for faculty and staff depend on the employee's date of hire. The University "grandfathers" rates at $5 per credit for those hired before July 1, 1994. For those hired after that, tuition rates vary according to whether the course is graduate or undergraduate.

For example, a full-time staff member hired after July 1, 1994, taking one 3-credit undergraduate course would pay $24.39 in tuition (3 percent of the $271 per-credit rate) and $158 in fees for a total of $182.39.

Five years ago, the same undergraduate course would have cost a Pitt employee only $75.73, according to Institutional Research. A 3-credit course in 1997-1998 cost $591; the employee-student would have paid 3 percent of that, or $17.73, plus fees totaling $58.

Graduate courses cost more. For a staff or faculty member hired after July 1, 1994, taking one 3-credit Arts and Sciences graduate course currently costs $276.40. That breaks down to $131.40 tuition (10 percent of the $1,314, 3-credit rate) plus $145 in fees (the same as undergraduate fees, except that the student activity fee is $5).

Five years ago, the same graduate course would have cost the employee student $146.10, a little more than half of what it costs today. That breaks down to 10 percent of the $951, 3-credit tuition rate, or $95.10, plus $51 in fees.

"It's the fees, not the tuition [costs] that hurts us," said Hodgkiss.

SAC may focus its Oct. 28 assembly on I.D. and fee issues for staff who take classes.

Goff said that an assembly to address those issues is a good idea. "But I hope it wouldn't end there, with just a discussion. These fees really affect us."

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 2

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