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Published: Sunday, 9/21/2003

UT to return $2.8M in fees

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Johnson: ensuring compliance Johnson: ensuring compliance
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The University of Toledo will refund $2.8 million in extra tuition fees charged per credit hour to students taking between 13 and 16 credits this semester, President Dan Johnson announced yesterday.

The university estimates that $1.2 million would have been collected for the spring semester through the $97-per-credit-hour fee, William Decatur, vice president for finance and administration, said.

The university raised tuition 9.9 percent this semester for undergraduate students, which is the maximum permitted under state law. In addition, the school began charging students $97 per credit hour for those taking between 13 and 16 credits. Those hours previously were free.

For students taking 15 credit hours this semester, the total price increase over last year would have been 20 percent.

The university's decision was made two days after the Ohio Board of Regents said the fees were a violation of state tuition caps.

“We want to do this to ensure we are fully compliant with the recently interpreted new state law on fee caps,” Mr. Johnson said during a news conference in front of University Hall.

“The university board of trustees, acting in good faith and before the legislature passed the fee-cap law, were responding to the fiscal requirements to maintain high quality programs and services in the face of a decade-long trend of declining state support,” he said.

Mr. Johnson said the university would examine how to makeup $4 million it won't receive.

“I'm pleased for the students, obviously. But as for the fiscal impact on the university, that will have to be addressed some other way,” he said.

Mr. Decatur said the university's Fiscal Advisory Committee, which is composed of faculty, staff, and students, would be consulted on how to make up money.

“We went through budget cuts when state funding was cut, and we had to cut $10 million of expenditures out of our budget and we raised fees,” Mr. Decatur said “This $97 credit fee was part of our strategy of balancing the budget for the year.”

The regent's committee on resources and system efficiency issued a statement Thursday stating UT's fee structure would violate state law.

UT officials had argued that past practice at the university sets 12 credit hours as the number for a full-time student, and so the increase should stand at 9.9 percent. But officials with the regents pointed out that a student must take 15 credit hours a semester in order to graduate on time and that 65 percent of UT students take over 12 credit hours a semester.

Tom Noe, of Monclova Township, the regents' chairman, commended the university for taking swift action.

“There isn't any legal room in this. Everybody in the state plays by the same rules,” Mr. Noe said. “This is not an easy thing for them, but I'm happy they did the right thing.”

“We developed this pricing mechanism to deal with a serious problem, which is no state funding and no tuition for [those hours],” Mr. Decatur said.

“We still have a fundamental problem - providing more courses with no additional state funding, and when we are providing those to students who are taking between 13 and 16 credit hours, we are not getting any more student revenue,” he said.

UT's board of trustees approved the pricing structure during a special meeting on July 14, but the legislation outlining fee caps did not occur until the middle of August, a university spokesman said.

The law limited tuition increases at public universities to 6 percent, but legislators allowed an additional 3.9 percent increase if that money is used for financial aid for low-income students or technology improvements.

UT's increase in July took advantage of the full 9.9 percent. But as a way to generate more revenue at a time when state funding was down and more students were benefiting from a policy offering certain credit hours for free, officials approved charging students the $97 for each credit hour they took above 12.

If the $97 charge had been upheld, the regents found that UT's tuition was up 19.8 percent for a student taking 15 credit hours. Such a student would have had to pay $7,008 in annual tuition and fees, up from $5,849 last year.

UT was the only public university in the state to breach the 9.9 percent mark except Ohio State University, which was given a special exemption by the legislature.

Dr. Johnson said he will recommend to the university's board of trustees at its Oct. 22 meeting to refund the fee.

Trustee Daniel Brennan said he anticipates the board will fully agree with Mr. Johnson.

“It was never our intent to circumvent the spirit or the letter of the law. But now that there is clarification, we will comply,” Mr. Brennan said. “Right now, if you are taking 12 hours and decide to take 14 or 15, you are paying the same amount, and that's what we tried to rectify under this model.”

Students questioned yesterday were pleased with the decision.

“Students were hit hard because of the [$97] surcharge and increase in tuition, and hopefully the refund will ease some of this burden,” said Guy Beeman, who is president of the university's student government.

Mr. Beeman said the student government would “work with the university administration to balance the budget deficit this refund will cause.”



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