On top of tuition, students at the University of Michigan pay hundreds of dollars in mandatory fees in each of their courses for textbooks, online homework and other supplies. With all of these extra fees students are expected to pay, Central Student Government is pursuing initiatives to make attending the University more affordable for students. Some of these initiatives include making homework more accessible and looking into hiring specialists who could help reduce costs of class materials.
Certain schools on campus require students to spend an additional amount of money on supplies and materials for their classes. According to the Office of the Registrar, for instance, materials for 100 and 200-level courses in the School of Art & Design can cost up to $250 per course. Courses in the LSA department of Film, Television, and Media, as well as courses in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, can also require students pay several hundred dollars for supplies.
Taubman sophomore Olivia Howard expressed her concern regarding the large amounts of money Taubman students have to spend on materials for class, especially considering the lack of communication from certain professors about these costs.
“We may not have to get books, but supplies for model building, drafting and computer software are incredibly pricey and a necessity for the class,” Howard said. “I guess it’s part of the major, but it can be a pain to get supplies at random intervals throughout the semester, especially when it’s not mentioned that we need them upfront. So students have a hard time budgeting for them.”
LSA junior Shira Baron, who is also pursuing a dual degree in the Art & Design School, spoke about her disappointment with the financial obligation for students in these schools.
“It’s disheartening for students because it adds an additional financial hurdle and reinforces just how expensive this school already is,” Baron said.
For certain students receiving financial aid, the University provides allowances for mandatory additional course materials. Art & Design students in need of this monetary aid receive $939, and Taubman students receive $708, while all other undergraduate students receive $524 per semester.
Though the University provides monetary compensation for those students who qualify for the aid, students who do not meet the requirements for the necessary amount must pay for the supplies themselves.
CSG Vice President Isabelle Blanchard, LSA senior, said CSG is making affordability on campus a priority this year. She also discussed open-source programs, which are publically accessible programs for students.
“If we could get the whole University to switch to free, open-source programs, then they won’t have to pay for these out of financial aid, and maybe then they can use that financial aid money to support more students in general,” Blanchard said. “They won’t have to pay as much for these supply allowances.”
Other courses on campus — especially in STEM fields — have extra registration fees for digital learning systems on which students are expected to complete homework and quizzes. According to Blanchard, the homework access code for one of her physics courses cost $70.
“I feel like the University should work harder to provide these resources or at least look into options that are more affordable … just so that it’s not all coming from the students directly,” Blanchard said. “I do think while some students can afford them, it’s definitely a barrier to entry. It can kind of scare people away from doing certain programs, or you can just easily fall behind too if you can’t buy it right away at the beginning of the semester.”
Some of her other courses on campus that use programs that require students to pay to access homework make homework optional, Blanchard said. However, they give extra points for students who choose to complete it.
“In one of my courses, they had a program that you could choose to pay for if you wanted to get those extra points in your grade, but then if you don’t want to pay for that or you can’t afford it, then that’s not fair,” Blanchard said. “You’re not getting those points that other students could get.”
In an attempt to help reduce these additional costs for students who do not qualify for an allowance provided by the University, CSG has been pursuing several different initiatives, according to CSG President Ben Gerstein.
Gerstein suggested some steps that need to be taken include direct communication with departments to better understand why there is an added fee, and whether the programs in question offer a value that is interchangeable with a different program that is less expensive. Additionally, he recommended trying to figure out what solutions can be worked on with professors and programs to limit costs.
Specifically, CSG is working to expand its Academic Affairs Task Force, a project dedicated toward reducing barriers, especially financial ones, to students’ academic success.
“I welcome students to get involved in the Academic Affairs Task Force,” Gerstein said. “It’s open to any student who wants to get involved, and so, if students are interested in how to improve this — because it’s a very real problem — we want to hear their stories and their voices and make sure that their perspectives are heard in the policies that we pursue and in the changes that we aim to make.”
The additional costs for materials and online programs are different for each course and each department. CSG is suggesting the University hire specialists who would be able to consult the departments and provide a more cost-effective alternative to the current programs and methods these courses use.
According to Blanchard, certain professors were concerned about the monetary feasibility of hiring these specialists. However, after speaking with University administrators, she said she was hopeful that the University could find funding for this area.
“I know it’s unreasonable to go up to a professor and be like, ‘Switch your program to Canvas or get a whole new program,’ but maybe we can either hire someone in these departments so they can provide professors with support in making the switch over, or providing the professor with options — kind of like doing the research for them — on what are other open-source programs that they might be able to use,” Blanchard said.
In the coming month, University students can expect to receive a survey from CSG regarding the various expenses for students’ courses so CSG can best identify the school’s largest financial concerns with regard to additional class fees.