Student fees sit unused at UM

Officials hold $1.3 million in technology charges as they decide how to split it

March 27, 2004|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

At a time when Maryland college students are under increasing financial pressure, the state's flagship campus has collected more than $1 million from them that it has yet to spend.

The $100-per-student fee - one of many imposed on undergraduates each year at the University of Maryland, College Park - was adopted two years ago by the Board of Regents to bolster technological infrastructure. The charge was initially set at $50 a year, and the first year's money was distributed by a committee to various projects.

The fee was doubled this school year, generating $2.4 million. Some of the money went to the earlier projects, but more than half - about $1.3 million - has not been spent because officials decided to set up a new distribution process.

Student leaders aren't happy that the money isn't being used.

"Why are we in the business of collecting money before we know what to do with it?" said student government President Tim Daly. "We collected all this money and it's just sitting there."

Provost William W. Destler said officials wanted a new distribution system because only two of the campus' individual colleges received money last year. All students were paying the fee, but not all were getting the benefit, he said.

Undergraduates at College Park pay more than $1,000 annually in such fees, including $206 for renovations to the Stamp Student Union - a project 30 months behind schedule and $12 million over budget - and a $330 athletics fee that, in part, helps pay the university's debt on the $165 million Comcast Center.

The fees are on top of tuition, which increased more than 20 percent this year to $5,568 annually for an in-state undergraduate student.

Last fall, Destler dissolved the technology fee's oversight committee - which included him, the chief information officer, Daly and six other undergraduates - in a favor of a more inclusive system finalized last month.

Under the new system, 70 percent of the money will be divided among the campus' 15 colleges based on population, with the remaining 30 percent going to the provost's office. Each of the colleges is to set up a student committee to identify ways to spend the money.

The new system allows each college to take on smaller projects, while the university will be less likely to pursue large-scale projects. But decisions about how to spend the funds likely won't be made until next year, Destler said.

In addition to the new distribution structure, officials are extending the technology fee to College Park's nearly 10,000 graduate students. As a result, graduate and undergraduate students will pay $84 next year.

Graduate students have fired back, forming a committee to fight the fee.

"I don't think a tech fee itself is a bad idea. But currently, no one can tell why it is $84," said graduate student government President Zhoupeng Tan. "Any mandatory fee should come up with a budget which can tell us how the fee will be spent."

Some of the money collected during the fee's first year went to upgrade classroom technology, enhance computer labs and improve a residence-hall network.

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