Christina Collins Burton
Departments in the College of Arts and Sciences are struggling to balance the rate at which lab fees are spent and the amount of upgrades needed to keep its technology up to date.
In addition to tuition, some classes have lab fees, requiring each student in the class to pay between $50 and $100 or more to keep up with the equipment demands of the class.
Once collected, the lab fees are combined and dispersed according to each department’s budget and needs. However, while this system has had no problems in the past, each department is spending the fees faster than they are collected.
“Usually what happens is before the start of every fiscal year we ask the chairs of the departments if they want to increase their existing fee or not,” said Avo Kechichian, associate vice president and treasurer for the University.
“We get responses from the chairs and accordingly we make a recommendation to either increase or leave the lab fees alone.”
According to Kechichian, for the past two or three years the lab fee budget has not changed at all.
Set up as operational funds, the lab fees for the departments for the College of Arts and Sciences are given back as part of their budget for that fiscal year.
After that year has ended any funds that have not been used by the department are lost.
Unlike the other departments in the college, the sciences have a restricted fund that allows them to save 75 percent of the lab fees collected from all students that fall under the department.
The restricted fund is an account set up to allow the collected money to roll over every year until the funds are needed by the department.
“This is a savings account for the sciences and they use that to purchase large or expensive equipment. So what they do is on an annual basis they get together and determine how they want to spend that money,” Kechichian said.
“The restricted fund has worked really well for us,” Professor of Biology Robert Neher said. “The funds have gone toward replacement and upgrading equipment and the students get the benefit pretty much right away.”
While all of the department’s lab fees go into the arts and sciences budget, the sciences are able to keep the portion of their student lab fees to maintain the labs equipment in both upgrades and new equipment.
“What the issue has been over the past two years is we have seen a very large increase in students but not a very large increase in the budget of the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Jonathan Reed, interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences.
The main issue that comes up during the budgeting process is the prioritization of upgrades that come up in the departments, Reed said. With many technology-heavy majors, a majority of the budget goes toward ensuring all computer programs being used are up to date so the majors remain competitive.
Reed is currently going through the budgeting process with the heads of all the departments to find out what it is they need to keep the student’s education up to date.
“If all of your funds are plowed back into the University every year and you don’t have a big enough budget then you have to go to the dean and ask for money,” Neher said.
“It is not a sufficient system at all; if you could show how much money you’re going to need for supplies that would be the ideal way.”
The restricted fund ensures that everything is upgraded at a steady pace instead of in large bursts. Applying the way that the funds are setup for the entire University would make sure that every department can be in charge over collection of whatever funds they need for major improvements.
“We’re probably not doing everything consistent across the University but it is a difficult problem to fix in a fiscal year,” Reed said.
Christina Collins Burton can be reached at email@example.com.