UNLV knocked $50 off a facilities fee to compensate for limited access to some services because of COVID-19, but some students say the discount doesn’t go far enough.
The university, which is offering mostly online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced its student life facilities fee from $223 to $173 per semester for the school year. All students enrolled in four or more course credits are required to pay it.
But many of the university’s roughly 30,000 students who are logging in for distance learning classes aren’t using student-centered campus facilities. And those who are taking classes on campus have limited access to facilities like the student union building and recreation center, which either have limited services and hours or are closed.
That has students experiencing “a lot of frustration and anxiety with the fees,” student body President Joshua Padilla said Friday.
UNLV officials say the university is still offering student programs and services, through many are in a virtual format.
“It’s really just to acknowledge that we understand that students have significant financial stress right now,” Juanita Fain, vice president for student affairs at UNLV, said of the fee reduction.
The university, which began its fall semester on Aug. 24, is holding about 80 percent of its classes remotely.
It’s also waiving a $34 per credit distance education course fee if a class originally planned in-person was switched to a remote format due to the pandemic.
Schools take differing approaches
Other Nevada colleges and universities are taking different paths on similar fees.
The University of Nevada, Reno, did not reduce or waive any mandatory student services fees because of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state, a spokeswoman said.
The College of Southern Nevada, however, waived a $1 per credit student union operation and maintenance fee for fall semester, even though its three student unions remain open.
“The majority of our classes will be online this semester, so we do not expect the student unions to be heavily used,” CSN President Federico Zaragoza wrote of the fee waiver, which is expected to cost the university about $250,000, in an Aug. 14 email to students.
But the community college, which has about 27,000 students at three main campuses in the Las Vegas Valley, left intact an $8 per credit student union fee, which goes toward bonds for three new student union buildings — one for each of its campuses — that opened in August 2019. The project cost about $81 million.
Nevada State College in Henderson, which has more than 5,500 students, doesn’t charge a student facilities fee and therefore doesn’t have any fee reductions for fall semester, college officials said.
While Nevada students may be getting some fee relief at the school level, they’re likely facing a greater financial burden. That’s because the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents implemented a new temporary student surcharge this school year to offset budget cuts caused the the COVID-19 outbreak.
The fee ranges from $3 to $8 per credit, which can top $100 for a full-time student taking a minimum of 12 credits, the equivalent of several classes.
Between college-mandated and the systemwide fees, said Padilla, the student body president at UNLV, he’s been hearing from a lot of students who are upset they are having to pay for “resources and things that we don’t have full access to.”
UNLV sophomore Leah Mazzola, a 19-year-old who’s studying hospitality management, is one. She said Friday she thinks it’s ridiculous to have to pay the fee at all when facilities such as the student recreation center are closed.
“Taking $50 off … wasn’t really the biggest deal ever,” she said.
Students will begin getting a bit more bang for their bucks on Tuesday, when UNLV’s campus recreational services will begin reopening in phases. It has been offering curbside pickup for outdoor equipment rentals and bike shop services since Aug. 10.
The university’s Student Union reopened when classes resumed, though with limited building entrances and hours, from 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Forced into remote education
But Mazzola a commuter student, hasn’t been on campus since the spring and is taking all of her classes remotely this semester, so she doesn’t anticipate being able to take advantage of either facility.
She originally had one fall class — a science lab — that met on campus once a week, but said she dropped it because she felt unsafe going to UNLV after COVID-19 cases were reported shortly after the semester began. Eight cases — seven students and one employee — have been reported during the fall semester, according to the university’s case tracking website.
Mazzola feels that tuition also should be reduced in light of the fact that she was essentially forced into a distance education.
“You’re really teaching yourself at this point,” she said.
UNLV’s student life facilities fee was created in 2010 “with widespread student backing” and supports the Student Union, and Student Recreation and Wellness Center, according to the university’s website. Specifically, it helps pay for bonds on the facilities, facility management, building maintenance, upkeep and replacement of equipment and student involvement and activities, according to UNLV’s website.
“More importantly, it covers a significant number of staff positions in both of those areas and programming,” Fain told the Review-Journal.
The fee covers so much more than just facility costs, Fain said. “I really think the name of that fee is a misnomer.”
The new temporary surcharge approved in April by NSHE’s Board of Regents along with other budget reduction measures also is raising pocketbook concerns.
The surcharge, which came just months after regents approved dozens of fee increases, varies by institution. At UNLV and UNR, the surcharge is $6 per credit for undergraduate students and $8 per credit for graduate students. Nevada State College students pay $5 per credit, while community college students pay $3 per credit.
A Change.org petition started about a month ago — titled “Petition to remove UNLV COVID-19 per credit Surcharge” — is one measure of the unhappiness with the move. As of Friday, 2,335 people had signed it.
Mazzola said she found out about the surcharge in early August, around the time tuition was due, and was shocked.
“Sometimes, it’s just ridiculous when you see all of the things they’re charging us for,” she said.