The hidden cost of a STEM major

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April 14, 2015

12:12 AM

Do you know what your science labs are actually costing you? Students enrolled in laboratory classes are charged an additional fee on top of their regular tuition for each lab they take.

This is surprising, considering labs are academic courses just like any other, and so the logical assumption is that they would be covered by the semester’s tuition. Nevertheless, they do cost an extra fee, and the fee is so poorly communicated that it seems almost hidden. In fact, the only mention of its existence is under the “attribute” column on Courselist, where the word FEE is printed next to the course name.

However, “fee” is printed in all capital letters alongside all of the other descriptors on Courselist, which are pretty much an alphabet soup anyway (e.g. LDWR, MCGD, PHGH). Therefore, it would not be surprising if the student mistook FEE to be an acronym, an assumption which several students I had spoken with had understandably made. As a result of this unclear communication, students like myself enroll in a lab class and subsequently receive a rude shock upon discovering an extra charge on the semester’s bill.

Moreover, even if a student should happen to notice their lab will cost them extra, the actual cost for any laboratory class is nowhere to be found. The cost is not listed anywhere that I could find on Banner, Courselist or, so the student cannot even hope to know the probable price range of the class. The student is expected to accept the price of a lab without even knowing what that price will be.

Speaking from personal experience, the three labs I have taken so far in the biology and chemistry departments have cost $60-70 each. Unfortunately, the only way I was able to retrieve this information was by looking back at my bills from last semester, which is absurd. Nevertheless, because lab pricing is not available, I have no idea whether or not these numbers are representative of most labs, or whether all labs involve fees. Perhaps higher-level labs are more expensive; perhaps different departments charge different amounts.

This revelation is, of course, frustrating for science majors. Majors such as biology, chemistry and geology require a minimum of six lab classes to complete the major, so the lab fees can add up quickly. One could even make the argument that lab fees act to penalize students who major in the sciences, which seems counterproductive with regards to the trend of encouraging STEM majors. Regardless, this problem is not only relevant for science majors. Every student must take a requisite laboratory class to fulfill GER 2, the natural science requirement, meaning that every student is obliged to enroll in a class for which they will be charged without knowing the price.

Considering that labs are a necessary part of the curriculum, the larger issue here seems to be one of priorities. Although students pay for all of their classes through tuition, for some unknown reason the College has chosen to make students pay separately for labs. I spoke with the Dean of Students Office, the Registrar’s Office and the Bursar’s Office, and each forwarded me along to a different department, as none of any of these departments could tell me why labs cost extra.

The fact is that in this current arrangement, labs place an unnecessary financial burden on students who want to take more science classes and even on students who just need to fulfill their GER 2 requirement. It would not be unreasonable to hope that, considering laboratory classes are a part of the core curriculum and are required for graduation, the College would seek to make them accessible to everyone.

The College is a liberal arts university, but one of the characteristics that set it apart is a strong science program. The College joins with many other schools in encouraging students toward STEM majors. College President Taylor Reveley has even said that a recent science grant would help to “address the critical challenge of increasing student commitment to STEM disciplines.” So why is the College indirectly discouraging students from taking science classes?

Email Anna Ayre at [email protected]

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  • Anna Ayre