Any high school student in Houston will, or should, automatically know one of the biggest colleges to get into is Texas A&M. That is, if you have the money or the scholarships to afford the tuition and fees.
In recent years, what's been attracting a lot of attention at any school in the country is those fees, used as backdoor ways to hike a student's bill. Increasingly, students and their parents are questioning what they're really paying for with fees. It turns out that sometimes not even the school knows -- and in this case, A&M certainly doesn't seem to.
The audit for the 2012 fiscal year from A&M's flagship school found flaws in justifying the $28 million spent in course fees -- in fact, auditors could not find any documentation for 83 percent of the fees charged students.
"The university must keep detailed accounting records to be able to demonstrate that each course fee charged can be traced to the actual costs of the materials or services used for that course," Steve Moore, Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications for Texas A&M, said. "This is exponentially more difficult with a large number of course fees and a school as large as Texas A&M."
Moore told Hair Balls that Texas A&M approves annual course fees through manual request forms that are put into the university's student information system. The more fees there are, the higher the processing load, raising the necessity to make some changes to the fee approval program.
The description of the course fees, found at the A&M business services Web site, goes into an insane amount of detail on 382 pages, listing more than 9,000 fees including supplies, laboratory equipment and field trips.
The university insists the fees were for educational purposes only, and the audit doesn't suggest that any of the money was misspent.
"The majority of the 9,000 course fees are instructional enhancement fees (7,200), 600 are lab fees, 100 are field trip fees and 1,400 are distance education fees," Moore said.
For most of the fees, the original approval forms stating why the fees were charged and what the money was spent on were not saved.
According to a story in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, at the last A&M System Board of Regents Meeting, Chief System Auditor Cathy Smock blamed the missing documents on a "complex administrative process." She added that finding some of these documents was indeed a "struggle."
But she did admit that if no original document exists for a fee, "it's hard to say that's the reason you're using it for," the newspaper reported.
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Jeff Pettibon, associate vice president for academic services, told the Eagle he wants tuition to be transparent to students and that he's not aware of any misspent money. Yet the question remains how tuition can be transparent to students if it's not even clear to the school itself.
"I understand why fees were introduced, and I do believe that the problem lies with our inability to raise tuition," commenter Sbstn Wgnr wrote. "However, students pay fees for a specific course with the assumption that those fees go towards that course. But the fees often don't...So students pay different fees for different courses, but those fees do not necessarily go towards the courses with fees. This is dishonest at best."
Summer is usually a time for professors to work on syllabi for the upcoming fall semester and adjust their curriculum. For Texas A&M, some added scrutiny will fall on fees for education as new students enroll for the fall semester.
"We continue to stress proper posting and notification of all fees in advance of enrollment to avoid any misunderstanding by the student of their investment in a class," Moore said.