Myki Dee Kim, Staff Writer
At colleges and universities across the United States, students in technical programs such as business, engineering, and nursing have professional fees attached to their programs, and Saint Martin’s is no exception. When logging onto the Saint Martin’s Student Financial Portal known as Self-Service, students in technical programs will see a category on their tuition balance titled “Professional Tuition Surcharge Fee.” Students within these programs are rarely made aware that such a fee exists, so the question that surfaces is, “what is this surcharge?”
Typically, universities either charge a lump sum of fees as a “flat rate” for student courses, or they charge based on credit hour. Saint Martin’s bases their fees on each credit hour a student takes. For example, the School of Business’ professional surcharge fee is $75 per credit hour. If a student is taking a 15 credit course load, but only 12 of those credits are business related, that student would be charged $900 in professional surcharge fees (75 x 12 = 900).
Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Sarah Saavedra, MBA, CPA, was able to shed some light in regards to this specific fee. “My understanding is that these are university fees that students enrolled in certain professional classes pay for. Professional Surcharge fees help the University offset the higher salary expense of certain faculty technical or professional based programs.” According to resources provided by Saavedra, the Return on Investment (ROI) for a four year Liberal Arts education could equate to $1 million over a period of 40 years. College is a substantial investment, and Saint Martin’s commitment to student success is evidenced by its high-income mobility rate, which allows students from all financial backgrounds to be given the tools to gain significant upward mobility.
The professional surcharge fee has been utilized by many institutions for the purpose of providing technical colleges additional funding to hire faculty from specialized fields. Such professors are able to make a significantly higher salary in a professional work setting, but choose to instruct college students for their own personal reasons. This surcharge assists the university to allow the faculty and staff within the technical colleges to hire faculty with specializations in specific fields and/or industries. The surcharge fees assist with funding overall technical programs while ensuring the university obtains competitive faculty. Though professional surcharges seem expensive, Saint Martin’s overall fees are actually less than the average cost of other colleges and universities. Saavedra noted that it is important to look at all the fees associated with education, as costs may be structured differently than other institutions, but in the long run may be the lowest cost for the student body. This is because the many costs that the university could charge it chooses not to, such as parking fees, technology fees and building renovation fees. The reason Saint Martin’s doesn’t charge such fees, is once again because of its commitment to students.
Third-year business majors Jocelyn Bonilla and Shane Hill, were both upset about the fee when they originally found out about it, but when they discovered the reasoning behind the charges, their feelings of discontent began to fade. Hill now believes the surcharges fit for upper division courses, as they are specialized, but thinks that for introductory business classes, the charge could be waived. Bonilla and Hill also note the university brings in highly competitive and qualified faculty to teach our courses, and though understanding of the fee, wishes it were better advertised so students are not taken aback when an unknown fee is posted to their student account. Bonilla is this year’s Senator of Business for Associated Students of Saint Martin’s University (ASSMU) and has discussed different find ways to share information explaining the fees with the Saint Martin’s Provost, Kathleen Boyle. Some of the options that have been considered include information in billing packets or a section on the school’s website. Bonilla encourages students to come visit her with additional questions during office hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in the Trautman Union Building.
Alumnus Evan Tran graduated from Saint Martin’s in 2018 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and is now working in the manufacturing industry. Tran said, “On paper, the idea of the professional surcharge is good because it’s another investment for the students by providing facilities or aids for future careers…I think it would’ve been more beneficial during my time at Saint Martin’s if more of the machinery were operational to have a more hands on experience- seeing how the lessons taught in lecture applies over to reality.” He attests that even though no one enjoys paying extra fees, they align with the Benedictine values because “through listening to students, faculty, alumni etc. these fees can be used to help or satisfy those who asks for change or opinions on certain things.”
Students within the technical schools appear to be mostly neutral about the fee, but wish for more visibility and dialogue around similar charges before they appear on student’s bills.
Saint Martin’s is equipped with a plethora of knowledgeable individuals able to help students understand the financial implications associated with higher education, including program staff, academic advisors, the wonderful people in student financial services, and many more who assist in the overall understanding of finances and how it can affect an individual student in their collegiate journey.