Implementation of lab fees presents challenges to students

By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer

As the cost of living increases nationwide, it seems Washington College is no exception to this trend. An email sent on March 24 by Interim Provost and Dean Dr. Michael Harvey announced the Natural Science and Mathematics Division would be implementing a $50 fee for classes with a laboratory component.

The change, which seemed sudden to many WC students, comes as a response to ever-increasing costs of lab operations. The ambiguous verbiage of the announcement email, however, raised concerns about how the money would be spent.

“Honestly, I understand that everything going on in the world is making supplies a lot more expensive, but I just wish that they would say specifically what the fees are going towards,” freshman Marcelina Lewis said.

According to the email, the lab fees “will defray the expense of materials used in the labs.”

“The Board of Visitors and Governors saw the lab fee as a way of helping to offset the expensive and material-heavy courses…Some, though not all, have expenses each time that the courses are offered and prices of these materials continue to climb,” Dr. Jennie Rinehimer, associate professor of biology and acting chair of the biology department, said.

The lack of lab fees was once a benefit of studying science at WC. At many larger universities, lab fees are commonplace and greatly increase the cost of attending college.

According to US News, lab fees at U.S. universities average approximately $150 per course, but can be as high as $300 depending on the needs of the lab.

“Fees for lab courses are quite common and are implemented by many institutions, so these are in no way unique to WC, though they are new for WC. I don’t have any reason to believe that they won’t be a permanent fixture moving forward,” Dr. Rinehimer said.

While the lab fees at WC are slated to be significantly less than the national average, taking many lab classes can amount to a hefty sum. This may prove to be a particular financial burden for STEM students, who often must take multiple labs per semester.

College tuition, particularly at this institution, is an expensive undertaking for students and their families. Fees not included in the “sticker price” of a college become additional, unaccounted for obstacles when attempting to earn a degree.

“I am fairly set on being an [environmental] science major so the lab fees aren’t so much of a deterrence but an inconvenience,” Lewis said. “An added cost…is difficult to contend with, but…it seems like it will be something I just have to deal with.”

For some students, however, the sudden cost increase for a STEM education could be a deterrent, discouraging them from studying the sciences at WC. Fortunately, the College has financial assistance programs in place that should ensure cost does not prevent students from pursuing a science degree.

“No faculty member wants to see the financial burden of a lab charge discourage students from taking a course, but this could be a very real hurdle for low-income students and students from under-represented and under-supported groups,” Dr. Rinehimer said. “I would encourage students who need financial assistance to use the link provided by the Provost’s Office to express that need.”

Burdensome as they may be, lab fees are proving necessary as the cost of supplies increases. Anecdotally, professors speak of the rising cost of plastic pipettes. One biology or chemistry lab can go through hundreds of pipettes in just one semester. A means of defraying the cost of consumables is needed in order to keep lab curriculum the same at WC.

Students have come forward to express their concerns about lab fees. Ultimately, however, the extenuating circumstances leading to this decision seem to be understood.

“Students certainly seemed surprised, confused, and upset by this announcement. Students also seem to understand that some classes are much more costly to run than others. I understand why students would feel all of these emotions and more,” Rinehimer said.

More so than the fee itself, Lewis indicated that students find issue with the way the change was communicated.

“I feel that the specifics of the fees and who will be managing them could have been communicated to students. This would have helped people understand why these fees that are seemingly coming out of nowhere are here now,” Lewis said. “Communication wouldn’t have changed the fact that the fees are difficult, especially for lower income students, but at least people [would] know where their money is going.”

As an environmental studies major, I feel grateful to be graduating before the implementation of lab fees. Whether a minor inconvenience or significant financial undertaking, it is difficult to find a positive aspect to an additional cost for a lab class. However, students should feel assured that this new policy ensures their education and STEM experience does not suffer as a result of a worsening economy.

Photo by Kayla Thornton

Featured Photo Caption: The lab fee may be a significant financial burden on WC students, particularly STEM majors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *