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Fees biting students deeper Headed by UB, extra charges on SUNY campuses can cost up to 42% beyond the tuition

In a world of soaring college costs, tuition at the State University of New York's four-year schools has remained the same for the last five years -- $4,350 a year for state undergraduates.

But that doesn't include the technology fee charged to keep students wired.

Or the athletics fee to support sports and recreation.

Or the health fee to run the campus medical center.

And there are more, such as a student activity fee, or maybe a parking fee.

Add it all onto the tuition, and the tab, as it is for the University at Buffalo, could be an additional 42.9 percent.

UB has the highest student fees in the system -- $1,868 a year, according to state figures.

"The small things do add up," said Rohan Dsouza, a UB senior.

Financial aid from the state doesn't help -- that goes toward tuition.

But unlike SUNY tuition, student fees continue to creep up -- $40 here, $60 there -- slowly chipping away at the pocketbooks of students and their parents.

While state lawmakers like to avoid being in the politically unpopular position of approving a tuition increase, schools -- which set campus fees themselves -- often turn to fee increases to keep up with rising costs.

Over the last three years, fees at SUNY campuses, other than community colleges, have been raised as little as $52 at the State College of Optometry and as much as $241 at Purchase College in Westchester County, state figures show.

"These fees are a way of helping us close the gap to provide the services the students have come to expect," said Kenneth H. Levison, vice president for administration at Geneseo State College. "It's not a perfect solution."

And it's not just SUNY.

Fees at private U.S. colleges went up by an average of 6 to 8 percent last year, according to the College Board, which annually tracks college costs.

Meanwhile, fees went up by an average of 8 to 9 percent at four-year public schools, some of which have modest tuition but impose thousands of dollars in fees.

Earlier this year, Geneseo State -- often recognized as one of the best bargains -- proposed an "academic excellence" fee of as much as $1,000.

"I think most people don't know about it, even at Geneseo. It will be interesting to see what happens if it is implemented," said James Bryant, 31, a senior at the college. "I would definitely be upset."

Geneseo State wants to establish itself as a premier liberal arts college, and the extra funding would help it make advances, such as hiring additional full-time faculty, Levison explained.

For now, Levison said, the proposal is stuck in sort of a bureaucratic limbo, while the governor's new Commission on Higher Education considers better practices for raising tuition SUNY-wide.

Fees have become part of that debate.

Last month, during a confirmation hearing, Carl T. Hayden, chairman of the SUNY board of trustees, was critical of the rising fee structure at state schools, likening it to a backdoor tuition increase.

Rather than considering tuition increases to deal with rising costs, Hayden said, those additional costs are covered by fees. And those fees set by the campuses are not included in the state's Tuition Assistance Program, which helps the neediest students afford college.

While UB -- the largest SUNY campus -- has the largest fees, close behind are the University at Albany, at $1,668, and Binghamton University, $1,662. All are research centers, and they argue that their institutions simply cost more to operate.

UB, for instance, shuttles its students between campuses and runs a Division I-A athletics program, said Dennis R. Black, UB's vice president for student affairs.

"We're trying to do more for our institution, more for our students, and that requires a greater investment," Black said.

Dsouza, 22, a delegate on SUNY's student assembly, thinks UB students generally are satisfied with the services provided by fees and expect their college costs to go up somewhat.

"It depends on if students are paying for college or their parents are paying," said Bryant, who represents four area colleges on the SUNY assembly. "I definitely know there are students who are paying themselves who have noticed the student fees going up. I think people are upset, they just don't know what to do about it."

Fees -- which are capped by SUNY annually -- rose $92 at Buffalo State College this year, to $1,025; $56 at Geneseo, to $1,166; and $60 at Fredonia State College, to $1,192, state figures show.

"As tuition has been flat," said Fredonia State College President Dennis L. Hefner, "[fees] have gone up, relatively modestly, each of the last five years."

The cost of transporting Fredonia's athletics teams, for example, has increased with the price of gasoline, he said.

"Inflation is a reality in higher education," Hefner said, "By holding tuition flat, it does create problems."

Schools also have relied on fee increases to keep up with the costly and fast-changing world of technology, said Stanley Kardonsky, vice president for finance and management at Buffalo State.

"That's one area where the demand has been coming a lot faster and more intense than the state is able to respond," Kardonsky said. "We have to provide more up-to-date equipment, which we could do with operating funds, but then we start to prioritize: Do we hire more faculty, or get more computers?"

Hefner was one of the early advocates of a SUNY tuition policy that would include modest, predictable tuition increases so colleges can better plan and budget and rely less on fee increases.

Kardonsky agrees, although some programs, such as athletics, are not funded by the state, so schools still would face raising some fees, he said.

Dsouza understands. He's just not ready for a fee such as the one proposed at Geneseo State.

"With a fee increase, it's something you're not expecting when your bill shows up, and being a fee, it's not covered by financial aid," Dsouza said. "It's coming right out-of-pocket."



SUNY student fees

While State University of New York tuition has remained at $4,350 annually, rising student fees boost the actual cost. State schools with the largest student fees are:

School / Fees

University at Buffalo / $1,868

University at Albany / $1,668

Binghamton University / $1,662

Purchase College / $1,421

Stony Brook University / $1,410

Fredonia State College / $1,192

Geneseo State College / $1,166

Canton / $1,118

Alfred State College / $1,109

Oneonta State College / $1,105

Note: Fees include cost of student health, transportation, technology and athletics.

Source: State University of New York

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