NoÃlle Bernard, Editorial Editor

(ERIN KILLINGER | The Miami Student)

This year, Miami University students were charged the highest undergraduate general fees compared to all Ohio public universities of comparable size. Students are paying roughly $1,774 per academic year and the number isn’t expected to decrease anytime soon. Miami’s high general fee cost is directly related to Miami’s small enrollment numbers as an Ohio public university, according to David Creamer, vice president of finance and business services.

All Ohio public universities institute a general fee to all students for collecting revenue for non-instructional student services. Miami is not making any dramatic move to lessen its dependence on student fees. Instead, more fees are being added, such as the additional fee for the new Armstrong Student Center.

Ohio University charges undergraduate students about $1,593 whereas Bowling Green State University requires undergraduates with roughly a $1,366 general fee. Miami has the highest fees, but one of the lowest enrollment numbers in Ohio, excluding Youngstown State University. As of fall 2010, Miami’s enrollment is listed at 16,359 full-time undergraduate and graduate students whereas Youngstown State University enrolls just over 14,000 students. Yet, even though Youngstown State has an enrollment size of about 2,000 fewer students, the university’s general fee is roughly $1,167 per year.

Moreover, Miami continues to add more charges to the general fee without fully removing current fees. Beginning in either fall 2013 or spring 2014, Miami will be adding an additional fee to the general fee for the Armstrong Student Center (ASC). According to Creamer, this fee will be a fixed amount of $215 per academic year and will serve to pay for operating and construction costs for the new facility.

“There will be an additional fee that will be added when the student center opens,” Creamer said. “A part of that understanding was that that fee should go into effect at the time the building is available to the students. So there is a clear relationship to the fee they’re paying and the advantages of having the facility.”

The ASC fee will follow the pattern of how students pay for other facilities such as fees for Millett Hall, the Recreational Sports Center, Shriver Center and Goggin Ice Center.

“The key part of this is that there is 25 years of indebtedness for the half of the building that the students are paying for, and so clearly it has to go on through the life of the debt,” Creamer said. “Then the issue will be revisited at the end of the financing term to ask if the fee is still necessary or not.”

Currently, the fee has an indefinite lifespan, but with ASC added the costs for other non-academic facilities will not be eliminated. Instead, the general fee charge for older buildings is said to remain, but level out rather than increase significantly.

“Often times what you get is, the building is now 25 years old and students have new needs so typically what happens is that the fee then goes into improving bringing the business up to date,” Creamer said. “Obviously trying to keep the building current and responsive to student needs is always one of the things we work at.”

But administrators are working to slightly decrease dependence on the general fee. In December 2010, President David Hodge made his response to the Strategic Priorities Task Force’s (SPTF) recommendations to cut Miami’s budget spending.

Hodge modified recommendation 33, which states, “ICA (Intercollegiate Athletics) should decrease its dependence of university support by 2 percent a year for the next five years.”

This means that over the next five years, ICA must refine its budget, as the university will decrease the support the department receives from the general fee by $1.4 million. In order for ICA to manage the revenue decrease, they need to increase sports game student attendance and charge attendance for major games.

“There are things that we’re confronted with that we have to manage,” said Jason Lener, deputy athletic director.

“When you look at our history of what we’ve been able to do in terms of attendance at our events and ticket sales, we have a history that says, ‘This is the most that you’ve ever done,'” Lenner said. “We’re trying to do things differently and trying to generate some different revenue so we can help offset that. The reality is that one of the recommendations of the task force was that we take a $1.4 million cut.”

Hodge also accepted recommendation 34, which states, “The Office of Recreational Sports should reduce the proportion of its budget funded by student fees by 2 percent per year for the next five years.” This reduction may help the university lower the recreational sports budget as the new ASC general fee charge emerges.

Ultimately, the university will be lowering the recreational sports budget support by $1.2 million. This will be accomplished through a series of actions such as potentially increasing the fees for course and club activities.

Miami is making monetary strides to reduce its dependence on students contributing to the general fee by attempting to generate new revenue. However, the university is not taking immediate measures to lower the general fee. Instead, administrators are working to maintain the current costs by slightly reducing departments’ dependence on fees.

“I don’t think that the university will become more dependent and that’s because there are limits on how much tuition will be increased going forward,” Creamer said.

“If you go back to the Strategic Priorities Task Force’s recommendations it suggests in there that its just really not practical going forward and there has to be new sources that provides these revenues or there has to be reductions in the spending that the university is making,” Creamer said. According to Creamer, the university will be looking at the budget carefully to determine what the future will look like as tuition continues to rise to meet the needs of students.

“If I had to guess looking out, we’re not going to see a sudden major increase in these areas of spending beyond what is kind of the natural tendencies with some modest growth each year,” he said.

UPDATED (4/19/11) – This story corrects a previously posted version in which the Ohio University general fee was incorrectly stated as $1,069. This version correctly states the value as $1,593.