29 March 2012

Some Ways Of Getting What You Pay For

I'm guessing that thousands of high-school seniors (and adults who want to return to school) have received, or will soon receive, letters of acceptance from one college or another.  Still others are registering for classes in schools where they may or may not stay until they complete degrees.  

If you are among those I've just mentioned--or if you are a parent or someone else who's paying the tuition for someone who's about to enroll-- I want to offer some advice.

1.) You should question any "fees" you see on any bill you receive from a school.  Among the most common are "student activity fees" and "technology fees."

I have taught many night classes. Few, if any, students in them participate in the activities--which usually include clubs and sports--that are supposedly paid for with the fees.  Understandably, those students resent paying those fees. If you or your kid plans to live at home (or in any off-campus location) and is working his or her way through school, he or she is also unlikely to have much time, or inclination, for such activities.  Why should you or they pay for them?

Sometimes, counselors and administrators will tell you that you can't enroll in the college or register for classes if you don't pay the fee.  In most schools, particularly government-funded ones, that is not the case.  But you must insist on not paying the fees.  You might be told to pay them and that you will receive a refund at the end of the semester.  If you do so, nag the bursar, financial aid and administrative offices until you get that refund.

In many states, Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) and similar organizations can help you to find out what your rights are in these matters, and will sometimes help you deal with officials who drag heels when it comes to refunding your money. 

2.)  Most schools now charge a "technology fee."  Now, it's true that colleges have to spend considerable amounts of money to update and maintain computers and other technological devices.  However, given what colleges charge, and given the administrative bloat that's found in nearly all of them, it's obscene that those schools charge an additional fee for devices found in classrooms and libraries.  The college doesn't charge extra for the use of desks and seats in a classroom or lecture hall, so why should it charge you extra for the computers, overhead projectors and such that are found in those rooms?

Refuse to pay the fee.  If you have paid your tuition, the school cannot prevent you from attending classes unless you have a contagious disease or are shown to pose a threat of physical harm to others in the school.

3.)  Find out who is teaching your courses.  If you see the word "Staff" or a blank space for the faculty member's name next to a course listing, an adjunct instructor is likely to teach the course.  In fact, the school or department may not hire that instructor until the day of the course.

Now, having spent many years as an adjunct, I am not unbiased (ha, ha) when I say that whether you get an adjunct or full-time instructor has little or no bearing on the quality of instruction you will get in the course.  (Believe it or not, a few tenured profs actually have told me that in some cases, the adjuncts do a better job, particularly in introductory or remedial courses.)  But, whether the course is taught by an adjunct or a full tenured prof, you will pay the same tuition.  

In some colleges, adjuncts are paid as little as $15 an hour for their classroom time.  And, as many of you know, instructors, typically those in writing-intensive areas like English, spend three to five hours in preparation, grading and other tasks related to their courses for every hour they spend in the classroom.  So, in effect, they are making $3-4 an hour for their work.  The US minimum wage, the last time I checked, was $7.25 an hour.

Try to take all of your courses with full-time, preferably tenured, instructors.  It may be difficult to find sections taught by those instructors in the introductory and general education courses freshman typically take.  Look for them; if they're not available, insist that the college and department staff the courses with such instructors.  Otherwise, find another school.  

You have to pay a lot of money to go to school.  Make sure the school is paying the instructor of the course a decent wage, and make sure the school is spending money on things that will actually enhance your or your child's education, not on salaries for meaningless administrative positions or programs.  And don't let your school's administration stonewall or speak condescendingly to you, or hide behind phrases like "We are not at liberty to release that information."

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