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ND tuition, fees continue to rise

Meghan Martin | Thursday, August 28, 2003

In what has become as traditional as football and finals for university students across the country, the cost of a Notre Dame education has risen once again.

Tuition and fees increases, which were announced in the spring for the 2003-04 academic year, jumped from $32,515 to $34,680 for each on-campus student. While a $1.660 rise in tuition itself has constituted the bulk of the increase, the University’s Board of Trustees approved a 2003-04 tuition package that added for the first time a $50 per semester Health Center Access Fee to its undergraduate tuition.

Ann Kleva, director of University Health Services, said that the increase was made after Health Services, the University Counseling Center and the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education submitted a joint budget proposal to the Office of Student Affairs suggesting the need for increased funding to the three organizations, which classify themselves as wellness and prevention services for the University community.

After careful review, the proposal was approved by the administration and passed on to the Board of Trustees, which gave the addition a positive nod as a component of the 2003-04 tuition and fees package.

“This is not taken lightly,” Kleva said. “[The administration] is very sensitive to any tuition increases. But to be able to provide these programs on campus, you’ve got to support them.”

Notre Dame is not alone among its peers nationally when it comes to charging students for medical services within its general tuition package. A large part of the health and wellness organizations’ report to Student Affairs included benchmarking the University’s programs with those of other comparable national institutions, such as Boston College, Duke, Indiana University, Clemson and Texas A & M, among others. Most of these institutions, Kleva said, charge students directly for services rendered, on top of the annual health services fee.

“They charge anywhere from $55 per semester at Texas A & M to over $200 per semester at Duke,” she said. “We thought $50 per semester was a realistic and workable fee to help us out in the future.”

Kleva attributed increasing operating costs in part to the ever-increasing costs of health care and the documentation of thousands of student immunization and health records that the University is required by state and federal governments to keep on file.

“We must provide tuberculosis immunizations for international students and those from high-risk areas,” she said. “We must keep and document their records – and all students’ immunization records . . . We are also required to provide education to students regarding the hepatitis and meningitis vaccines. That’s a full-time job in itself.”

The costs of maintaining a full-time, 24-hour a day health center have become increasingly difficult to address, Kleva said, as updating academic buildings and hiring new faculty often take precedence over spending tuition dollars on such auxiliary programs as health and wellness services.

“We’re in an academic environment,” Kleva said, “but we provide support to that academic environment – but tuition is coveted to provide the best academic environment possible. We almost have to rely on our own resources … to be able to provide 24-hour service and to improve and expand education. We do provide quite comprehensive health services on campus, and for that we require additional funding. We don’t want to decrease services.”

Students who visit the University’s health center, which is open 24 hours a day during the academic year, are not charged for such basic services as physician visits, drop-in appointments or overnight stays in the center’s upstairs inpatient care department. The center provides a free van service to transport students to and from off-campus doctor, dentist, physical therapy and counseling appointments during normal business hours.

Kleva estimated that the health center has had an average of 18,000 annual visits during the last three years in its walk-in clinic, which includes allergy and travel/immunization services.

Since the addition of the annual fee, University Health Services has not increased its operating expenses, and has continued to assess the lowest costs possible to students who utilize such services as X-rays and pharmacy, Kleva said.

“The costs that we charge are way below market,” she said. “We’re not in the business to make money – we’re in the business to pay for supplies.”

The extra revenue generated by the addition to this year’s tuition package will go directly to a Student Affairs fund that has been allocated to the office’s three health and wellness organizations.

“[The money] is solely used to support student health and wellness and prevention services on campus,” Kleva said. “This was a necessary increase to maintain the richness of healthcare on campus.”

The $50 per semester Health Center Access Fee that students and parents will be assessed is not expected to increase over the next few years, Kleva said.

“I don’t anticipate an increase – we feel in the very near future that this isn’t something that’s going to increase annually,” she said.

Another increase to the tuition bill that students and parents received in the mail this year was in the room telephone charge, an annual fee that covers the costs of local phone and voicemail services.

Room phone fees increased $7 in 2003-04 from the last academic year, a 4.5 percent rise comparable to that which affected room and board charges.

“We key the phone rate increase to the increase in room and board,” said the University’s deputy CIO Dr. Dewitt Latimer. “Like room and board, the phone service is tied to the cost of providing it.”

Although dorm room phone charges have increased for students, they have not risen at the same rate assessed to the rest of campus. Faculty, staff and administrative offices have seen an 11 percent increase in their own phone services this year, he said.

While increased revenue will cover the ever-fluctuating costs of operating phone systems on campus, it will also allow the University to utilize increased technology in the voicemail system used by faculty, staff and students alike.

“The old phone systems that don’t treat voice as data will be replaced by phone systems that do treat voice as data,” Latimer said.

Latimer heads the newly created Integrated Communication Services directorate on campus, which has brought the former Telecommunications department under the auspices of the Office of Information Technology since July 1 of this year.

“One of the reasons we merged the two departments was to gain the benefits of common technology,” he said. He has led the effort to research possibilities for upgrading the University’s voice messaging system over the course of the next few years.