President’s Blog – Higher Education Matters:

Thoughts from Southern Vermont College President Karen Gross

Archive for January, 2010

Welcome Back for ‘Spring’ Semester

Monday, January 18th, 2010 by Karen Gross
Snow on the gate at Everett Mansion. photo by Alan Nyiri.

Snow on the gate at Everett Mansion. photo by Alan Nyiri.

As we approach the start of the spring 2010 semester on Jan. 19th, I keep wondering why we (and other academic institutions) call it “spring semester.” At least in Vermont, where we are, it is hardly spring. Indeed, in Vermont, spring does not arrive until April – and that is when our spring semester is about to end.

Cynics among us might argue that we name it as a means of encouraging spring’s early arrival, as a form of wishful thinking. Perhaps for some but not so for me.

I adore winter. I like the cold. I like it when snow falls. I like winter sports (both the ones I do and the ones I watch.) I like the winter Olympics too. I like the way the snow sticks to the trees and other surfaces, and I adore the way our campus looks during the winter months.

So, to our students and staff, welcome back to SVC. Enjoy the start of the “spring” semester and your new courses. And of course, bundle up to stave off the cold, drive carefully and ski and snowboard safely. And, if you get cold and damp on your way to the Mansion, stop by my office where, from time to time, there is a fire in the fireplace to warm the body and encourage the soul.

Costs of Air Travel and Higher Ed: Unpleasant Parallels

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Karen Gross

Our son was recently set to fly from New York to Denver on a well-known carrier. When he logged online to obtain his seat, he faced an array of options – unbundled services that needed to be purchased separately and which, if purchased, would give him some clear benefits that did not come with the price of the original seat. He could buy more legroom. He could get an aisle seat. He could get priority lines for security and boarding. He could check his baggage more cheaply (baggage fees are pretty standard now), and he could use a special baggage check-in area to speed things along. You get the idea.

Colleges and universities have created something similar: there is a new push for separate fees for everything imaginable and the dollar amounts are not inconsequential, sometimes adding thousands of dollars to the cost of education.

Look at this list of published college and university fees at various institutions: a student life fee, technology fee, a course or lab fee, a single room fee, a graduation fee, a healthcare insurance fee (absent proof of other insurance). A quick search of several institutions reveals some newer types of fees and their amounts: ID card fee ($30 per card), freshman orientation fee ($400), laptop insurance fee ($170), athletic fee (approx. $211 for a full time student), infirmary fee ($410 whether one is sick or not), “college” fee ($12.50). Some colleges have an overall, undifferentiated student fee, which in some instances exceeds $1000.

Don’t get me wrong. Running a college/university is expensive. As we presently price tuition (and for institutions in states where the legislature fixes tuition), we cannot make ends meet. I appreciate that fees augment much needed institutional revenue. But, there is one key difference between the airlines and higher education in this fee push: most of the fees in higher ed are mandatory and most of the fees in the airline industry are not.

Sure, a student can forgo a lab or art course or a more expensive academic program and can choose to pay to live in a single room. Likewise, one can fly without checking luggage and eating onboard and pay to upgrade to business class.

But, in higher ed, most of the fees are not about student selection of optional luxury benefits — like more legroom on planes or a sandwich. Instead, these fees are a way of creating revenue without explicitly increasing tuition. Unlike the airline situation, you can’t attend (fly) without buying these “options.”

I am just wondering whether we would both be better served and would better serve our students if each institution just had one comprehensive price of attendance, which will necessarily be adjusted to reflect the various grant/scholarship options. My point is that there would be no added fees. No unbundling of services. One cost … all in. Think then about how students and their families could more easily compare and contrast real prices.

I appreciate that an all-in price for higher education will likely never happen on our campus or elsewhere. On the other hand, Southwest Airlines is making quite the statement by doing just what I am suggesting with respect to baggage fees: they aren’t charging separately for this service. Perhaps they are onto something.