Fee increases cost of attendance

By Lorelei Poch

Environment Editor

Some parents and students have noticed that the cost of attendance at Saint Michael’s College increased this academic school year by $1,670. What used to be called the Student Activities Fee, priced at $325 since the 2012/13 academic year, is now named the Comprehensive Fee and was set at $1,995 for the 2019-20 school year. The fee covers the cost of services outside of tuition and room and board for students.

For decades this fee was recognized as the Student Activities fee which funded the Student Association in part. “Now with the comprehensive fee, we’re going a step further to say the fee covers lots of things in your Saint Michael’s experience, but not in an itemized, explicit way,” said Vice President of Finances Rob Robinson.

The breakdown of specific categories included in this new comprehensive fee, for example, the cost of library services, the fitness center, health services, streaming services and IT, are bundled into the single comprehensive fee and not itemized for students or parents.

The structure of the former activities fee has an important historical context. “At some point 15 years ago someone said we want to implement a student activity fee to protect SGA’s funding,” Robinson explained. This revenue was kept separate from tuition, room and board to ensure funding did not waver from any instability in Saint Michael’s funding. According to Robinson, the cost of attendance typically increases 3-4 percent every year. “That has been applied equally to tuition and to the residence fee but not to the Student Activities fee,” Robinson said.

“For the current year we froze tuition and increased the residence fee at a higher rate based on the analysis of where we stood in the marketplace. We changed the fee structure to now be a comprehensive fee. Those things combined led to a total cost of attendance increase of just over four percent. But we didn’t apply any of that to tuition.

“There are lots of parallels, Netflix, for example. You can’t sign up for just television shows and not movies, you do not then ask Netflix, well of my $10 a month how much is related to television shows or movies? It’s packaged together as a thing. There are elements of the comprehensive fee that are like that. No one at SMC is experiencing it in the entirely same way. You don’t go into Alliot and say how much is for vegetable-based proteins versus meat -based proteins. If you’re vegetarian and not interested, that’s something that’s there if you are interested,” Robinson said.

Since this fee is non-negotiable in order to protect aspects of the Student Association, no financial aid may be applied to this charge. Despite this, Saint Micahel’s is still trying to competitively enroll students who require financial aid. “We want to be competitive. You can’t be academically successful if you’re worried about financial aid,” said Kristin McAndrew vice president of enrollment. 

The process to change the fee was relatively quick. According to Robinson, the comprehensive fee was encouraged mostly by Robinson and Sarah Kelly, the former vice president of enrollment and marketing. The President and the President’s cabinet were also involved. “The cost of attendance is really integral to what enrollment does. So when the fee was set Sarah Kelly and I made a presentation to the SGA to talk about the change in the fees and some of the rationale behind getting to that,” Robinson said. “We looked at a variety of things and the places where our expenses have risen and tried to make some determinations about which of those things were and weren’t funded conceptually in which category.”

Tenley Mazzerolle ‘21, SGA Secretary of Finance, said she was not particularly fazed by the change and increase in the fee. Nor was she concerned about the broad sweep of the fee, rather than an itemized list. “I think transparency never hurts. So, it could be fair if they posted everything that was being paid, but it’s gonna have to be paid one way or the other whether I pay it toward the fee or for tuition. So it doesn’t bother me that much,” Mazzerolle said.

“It would be wonderful if we didn’t have to raise fees, but that is unfortunately not the financial reality,” Robinson said. The reasoning behind the fee, he explained, was to collect money where Saint Michael’s needed more and to be comparable to other institutions.