A $100 late registration fee that was supposed to be implemented in the fall will be postponed after vocal opposition from the Student Government Association and more than 2,100 students that were informed of the fee through a Facebook group.
"After conferring with various representatives of the UH administration and with our student leaders, we believe it is in everyone’s best interest to defer charging this fee for the upcoming semester," Provost Donald Foss said in a prepared statement.
The fee was originally part of a new late registration procedure that was drafted on March 23 that required students to complete their registration process before August 14. Otherwise, they would be charged a $100 fee and be dropped from their enrolled classes, Director of Student Financial Services Gene Gillis said.
If students do not complete their registration process – either by paying their tuition or opting for an installment payment plan – the student will be "zapped" from the class and un-enrolled. Students have two business days to address the issue.
The new procedure still requires students to register before the semester begins because of stipulations in the Texas State Education Code, but the $20 late fee and un-enrollment are the only remaining consequences from the original draft.
"(SGA executives) have convinced me that the statement of ‘you have to pay, or you will lose your place in class’ is a dramatic enough consequence for students to pay," Foss said during an interview. "I thought the government student leaders did a good job to call it to my attention. They’ve made a good point. I accept their point. (But) I reserve the right to reevaluate that after the fall term."
Foss said he believes that the original reasoning for the fee increase was to gain student’s attention to complete the enrollment process on time. The University has since re-evaluated its position and thinks that a student losing their seat is consequence enough, Foss said.
Foss, SGA President David Rosen and Vice President Sam Dike said that their discussions over the change in the late registration fee is evidence that the administration and the student body can work together to produce beneficial results for the University.
"I think the events of the past week and a half is living proof that shared governance is alive and well at the University," Rosen said. "I really do believe that too many times, a lot of the issues that we face are framed as an ‘us versus them’ type of thing. We can accomplish a lot of things when we work with the students and the administration."
The current late registration policy has been in existence for over 40 years, Gillis said, but the application of the process has been changed so that students will no longer hold classes "hostage" while others are waiting. In previous semesters, 6,000-10,000 students had not completed their registration according to the state requirement; in the spring semester alone, more than 7,000 students did not comply, Gillis said.
Currently, any student who registered after the initial due date was penalized with a $20 fee, which could be installed through a loan if the student chose to do so, or it could be paid up front if the student paid 100 percent of their tuition and fee bill. This policy will remain, Foss said.
Enforcing and changing the late registration procedures are necessary because of the law, for fairness and to help students commit to their education, Foss said.
Foss said that he hopes that a student losing their seat will be enough of an incentive for students, and that he encourages them to complete their registration process in a timely fashion.
"It’s important that students be able to sign up for the classes they need," Foss said in the statement. "Allowing the enrollment process to drag on was compromising that. This new approach will prevent classes from being held hostage, as it were, by students who weren’t paying on time."
SGA passed a resolution authored by Rosen condemning the fee on April 26 on the basis that the administration should have employed different methods other than a fee.
"We’re not going to fight the fact that students have to pay on time – that’s a reasonable request," Rosen said before the fee was postponed. "It will help our graduation rate, and it will help the school with financial planning. But the $100 fee was a kick in the pants when you’re already down on the ground. The problem is you’re also going to lose your seat. There’s already incentive enough. If we don’t need the money, then we don’t need the fee."
Repercussions from the state have forced the University to be more stringent on the policy. UH and Prairie View A’M are the "only state schools who have not required their students to pay this fee as an upfront fee," Gillis said.
"The University has lost funding from the state when a class was dropped too late for another student to add the class," Gillis said. "That loss of funding means the University has to make up for the loss in other ways. More than likely it has an effect on what we must then charge for tuition and other fees. And, you, the other students have lost the opportunity to register for a class you may have needed."
Foss said that he had every intention of using the money collected from the fee and turning it into a scholarship fund. The fee was not changed to be a "money-making operation," Foss said, but was intended to grab students’ attention.
Rosen said that it is unreasonable for the University to compare itself to other state colleges, and he said that constantly fining students is not a sensible solution.
"We don’t need to look at anyone else’s budget when determining our needs and the needs of the people here," Rosen said. "We say we like having a non-traditional body. We say we like being diverse. We say we like having older students here. Then there’s this (fee change) that makes it that much harder for at-risk students to attend the University. If we continue increasing, then we’re going to hit the glass ceiling of losing our diversity."
Communication of the fee was also questioned and heavily criticized by Rosen and Dike because the original draft was stamped "for UH staff use only."
Foss said he acknowledges that the University should have done a better job of informing students. In the future, the University should simply talk to student organizations such as SGA and The Daily Cougar to broaden communication, Dike said.