Dozens of engineering students have expressed concerns about hefty fees the engineering programs at all three state universities want to add to their tuition.
The College of Engineering at Boise State recently held two workshops to help explain the proposed "professional" fees, eventually a $1,000 a semester for juniors and seniors.
Idaho's colleges and universities are threatened with a 6 percent cut in funding--$24.7 million--in Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter's 2011 budget proposal, though they are still hoping for additional funds and planning for other significant fee increases.
Some students expressed concerns the hefty fee increase would make their degrees unaffordable.
"Are there exceptions for nontraditional students if we can't afford it?" asked mechanical engineering major Glen Purnell at the Feb. 11 workshop.
Cheryl Schrader, dean of the College of Engineering, said there were no planned exceptions but that the fees would be considered on applications for federal financial aid, which is not possible with current lab and course fees (current fees would be dropped under the new program).
"The study shows there is very rarely a decrease in enrollment due to the fees," Schrader said.
The dean referred to a 2008 dissertation published by the University of Nebraska that assessed variable fees to 162 undergraduate programs throughout the nation. It concluded 46 percent of the institutions applied fees to programs that cost more to deliver, usually in fields that require additional training and equipment.
"It's becoming evermore common as philanthropic gifts, grants funds and donations are down," she explained. "[Boise State] President [Bob] Kustra supports the idea, so I want you to know this is not a new idea."
In fact, the Boise State nursing department already charges professional fees, as do several programs at Idaho State University. But now the colleges of engineering at Boise State, University of Idaho and Idaho State University are holding workshops to announce their own fee proposal before the plan is submitted to the State Board of Education for approval in April. The colleges passed out a copy of the proposal in draft form.
"There is an inherently higher cost to educating engineers than most other students," the draft states. "Initially, funds are expected to be concentrated in the areas of laboratory equipment, course support, professional advising and enhanced student support services such as internship coordination and placement."
Schrader emphasized the proposed engineering fees are partly due to traditional funds becoming less reliable. She said now is the time to respond timely.
"This is the time to be investing in higher-tech education," she said. "This is the time to keep the doors open."