As fall began to roll around, it was clear to students that classes this semester were going to look extremely different. On July 22, 2020, Queens College announced on its Instagram account that courses would be primarily held online. This caused many students to double-check their financial aid and delve into their tuition breakdown, revealing that students were still being charged $162.40 in student activity fees and $125 in technology fees. Now this raises the question: Since students are not physically present to utilize these services, why are certain fees not being waived? Considering the unique nature of this semester, all extra fees, if any are to be required at all, should be technology focused. The student activity fee should be waived while the technology fee should stay intact (contingent upon the latter going towards creating an easy and accessible online-learning environment).
After speaking to a few different QC representatives, I was finally able to get in contact with someone from the Bursar’s office, who explained that CUNY has not told them what exactly the fees are being used for; this presents another hurdle: CUNY’s lack of transparency. If students knew for certain that their money was being utilized properly, there would be less outrage over the charges.
Upon conducting an investigation, the QC Student Services Corporation, which is an administrative board that governs the student activity fee, accumulated $2,762,051 in fees, (according to a public report for fiscal year 2018). It also seems that the student activity fee primarily finances the office of student development and leadership, clubs on campus and the Student Association. The aforementioned uses of the student activity fee are governed by a different board, called the Queens College Association.
Timothy Boyce, a sophomore at QC, shared his concerns about these extra fees. “The student activity fees should be waived since we’re not having any activities as of right now. We’re online, so the technology fees are probably important as long as it’s going to the right place,” said Boyce.
QC did announce that laptops are available on loan for students, but is that all they’re offering regarding technology coverage? If CUNY is going to make these fees a requirement, it should be required that the money be used to do more than just provide laptops. Fees should be used to make online materials free of charge, purchase subscriptions for students utilizing other platforms for additional help, or make upgrades on a universal learning platform so that students don’t have to keep track of multiple platforms for each class. The money should be utilized to alleviate the stress of attempting to learn through a pandemic.
Much of CUNY’s attraction stems from its affordable price tag when compared to a SUNY or an out-of-state university. Uneasiness over tuition costs is not as common as it is at other institutions, but, in a pandemic, it’s imperative that students feel secure. It’s not a difficult task for CUNY to be clear about fund allocation and reassure its students that they are still getting a quality education for their money.
A brief conversation with Professor Leventhal from the Business and Liberal Arts (BALA) department revealed his take on CUNY’s decision to still implement these fees. Leventhal believed the bigger picture should be considered: the government must invest more money into CUNY to reduce costs for students.
Whereas student leaders on campus may argue that the student activity fee is necessary, even in the middle of a pandemic, it ultimately would be more beneficial to tuition payers if they could save those funds to support themselves. One can be confident that students would gladly prefer to save $162.40, as opposed to virtual programming that you can’t exactly engage in.
Speaking as a student myself, it would address most of our concerns and demystify whether or not we are getting our money’s worth if CUNY were clear about where fees are being implemented. There is no transparent reason for the current student activity fee and it lacks the importance of the technology fee. With classes primarily online, technology is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It’s vital that all additional funds be used to make the semester as accessible as possible. There is no excuse as to why any student should feel as though they are not being completely supported by their school. Just as students and faculty were forced to adapt to these educational changes, CUNY must as well. If the purpose of these fees has altered to reflect the new educational needs then by all means keep the money, but it would be great if the school did so with much more transparency.