Long: Delivery fees an unfair charge from the university

Craig Long

As classes begin this semester, many of you will have at least one online course. Who is to blame you? They’re convenient, particularly if you have a difficult schedule or are from out of town, and they can allow you to take two courses that normally would occupy the same time block.

But have you checked your U-Bill lately? Buried in the thousands of dollars that you’re charged for tuition, fees and other expenses this university milks out of you is a “delivery fee” of $150.

What the hell is that all about? Delivery fee? You’ve got to be kidding me. I know it’s just a drop in the bucket and may seem inconsequential in the long run, but it adds up. I mean, for me, that’s half of rent for a month. That’s all of the textbooks that I purchased for my Kindle this semester. It’s my grocery budget for a month.

Maybe there is a logical, rational explanation as to why this university feels the need to squeeze us one last time for an extra bit of cash, but I can’t see it.

Online classes, as those of us who have taken several know, can be set up well in advance on Blackboard. There is no special, expensive program which we use (and believe me, if there were, it would be a required purchase at the bookstore). After a professor sets up the course on Blackboard, they can set when they would like the “modules” that contain assignments and quizzes to open, so the course flows like a regular one.

After that is done, all they have to do is sit back, and troubleshoot if a student has questions or problems on Blackboard. Of course, the professor can choose to map the course out on the fly, so it follows directly the classroom session, but that is a stylistic choice, nothing more.

So what’s with the fee? All things considered, we should actually be charged less for taking courses online. I don’t know of anyone who has taken an online course and thought what they learned to be superior to what they would have learned in a class. I don’t think many professors consider looking at slide shows online to be comparable to sitting in one of their classes.

It thins the pack of students that we all must deal with, combating the ever-increasing class sizes we have here. It’s so easy to set up, graduate and even undergraduate teaching assistants can oversee the delivery of the content during the semester, with little to no instruction given by the lead professor (other than providing them the original content to place online).

By offering classes online, it enables the university to deliver required classes easier and cheaper to the record numbers of freshmen we’ve had the past few years. Can you imagine how disastrous it would be if everyone who took a course online instead took them in a classroom? I wonder how many more professors and graduate TAs would have to be employed, and rooms occupied (with lights and projectors on) to accommodate all of the students who would take the courses. That would raise costs to the university substantially.

For classes that actually feature video recordings of lectures (and not all of them do), I know that the university has to purchase cameras for the rooms and probably some sort of program to record, convert and post the files online. That all costs money, of course. But, at least for the cameras, it is a one-time cost. It shouldn’t cost $150 for every student in every class every year. This isn’t a for-profit university.

And even if equipment expenses are the justification for the fee, why was I able to take an accounting class a couple years ago where the teacher recorded and posted the lectures online for free? If that class didn’t charge me an extra $150, why would any other?

But when it comes down to us, it costs more. What difference does it really make? The credits count the same. If anything, it probably costs the university less than scheduling hundreds of other class sessions. And, isn’t the intent of some of these distance learning courses to provide an education to people who cannot physically attend classes on campus? For people living in rural areas, the education can be invaluable. But they have to pay for the credits, and then the delivery fee. That extra $150 could be an unbearable burden for people in rural areas.

It feels slimy to me. Maybe there is some other justification that I haven’t thought of, but I think on principle every cost relating to taking credits should be included in tuition. It isn’t as though they’re purchasing chemicals for us to use for a lab or they run a different program for us than Blackboard. This fee simply seems to be a “convenience fee” under another name.