On Fees and Fines

Your tuition dollars at work

Your tuition dollars at work

In 2014, Dartmouth attained the dubious distinction of being the ninth most expensive college in the United States, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Among its peers in the Ivy League, it was bested only by Columbia, which ranked third in the nation. Dartmouth’s tuition last year was $48,108; with room and board included, the total cost was $61,927. In tuition and fees alone, Dartmouth was the second most expensive school in the Ivy League. Measured by the cost of room and board, it was third.

One metric the Chronicle of Higher Education does not take into account is on-campus dining plans. Dartmouth Dining Service’s “Smart Choice 20” meal plan, the default option for freshmen at the College, costs $5,550 annually. (The most affordable on-campus dining plan available to undergraduates is the “Smart Choice 5,” which costs $4,845 for a full three-term academic year.) A comparison of meal plans available to freshmen at each of the eight Ivies shows that Dartmouth’s default Smart Choice 20 is the third most expensive dining plan in the Ivy League, behind Yale and Princeton.

The relatively high costs of Dartmouth Dining Services (DDS) can be attributed largely to labor costs and for-profit management. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has negotiated the highest wages and benefits for unskilled labor in the Upper Valley region for DDS employees. In 2011, DDS employees earned $15.82 per hour in addition to a lengthy paid vacation, a 10% pension contribution for employees over 40 years of age, and a hefty health plan. In a column on his website Dartblog, Joe Asch ‘79 calculated that each DDS employees earn 75% more than King Arthur Flour employees and more than double that of an employee at Metro Bakery and Cafe. To make matters worse, David Newlove, Director of DDS, unwittingly admitted in 2011 that DDS was making record profits during the 2010-2011 fiscal year with a net income of $1.3 million. Newlove removed this information from his LinkedIn profile shortly after DDS’s profits were publicized on Dartblog. In the 2013 fiscal year, DDS and ORL, recorded in College records as “auxiliary income,” increased by the biggest single-year amount on record. The exorbitant spending on labor costs and DDS’s for-profit management have necessitated an ever-growing cost of Dartmouth’s required meal plans.

The monopoly held by DDS on the dining options for Dartmouth students eliminates competition and forces students to pay excessive costs for an inferior product. At the Class of ’53 Commons (“FoCo”),the main dining hall on campus, students are charged $14.50 for a dinner swipe. This amount is far more expensive than nearly all of the dining options in downtown Hanover, locations which serve an unmistakably better product. A Boloco burrito costs about $7, a Ramunto’s “Original Brick” pizza costs $8, a Molly’s bacon cheeseburger costs $12, and a Murphy’s “Murph Burger” costs $14. Instead, Dartmouth students are required to pay $14.50 for Ma Thayer’s reheated turkey or the Grill’s lukewarm burger patty that was cooked thirty minutes earlier. In addition to forcing Dartmouth students to consume worse-tasting food, these costs are extracted directly from the pockets of students.

Accounting for room and board and the default meal plan, the annual tuition for a freshman at Dartmouth was $67,477 in 2014. This figure is only $900 shy of a freshman year at Columbia University, the most expensive in the Ivy League; it outstrips the closest competition, Yale University, by about $1,500. A year of tuition at Harvard, including meal plan and room and board, costs $6,708 less than one at Dartmouth.

Dartmouth’s relatively isolated location and focus on undergraduate education necessitates a higher salary for professors, in order to entice notable academics to relocate to Hanover. However, the cost of attracting talent to Dartmouth’s faculty does not explain the College’s outsize tuition. As Joe Asch noted in a Dartblog post last year, Dartmouth’s annual operating expenses exceeded those of Brown University by over $105 million. Meanwhile, Brown has a larger faculty than Dartmouth, a larger student body, higher state taxes, and higher real estate costs.

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Increases in Dartmouth’s tuition and fees since 1998; Chronicle of Higher Education

In addition to Dartmouth’s elevated tuition, housing, and dining costs, students are also are burdened with a number of arbitrary and expensive fees and fines, including late check-in fines, identification card replacement fees, and privately-issued parking tickets. While these additional costs are relatively insignificant compared to the excesses in tuition and dining costs, they nevertheless have the potential to become hardships for students struggling to make ends meet and are symptomatic of the College’s larger issue with excessive costs.

One of the excessive fees students deal with is the price of replacing one’s lost or stolen student identification card. Upon arriving for freshman fall, each Dartmouth student receives a ID card equipped with a magnetic strip that can be used to unlock dormitory doors and pay for meals. Inevitably, students lose these cards for various reasons. To purchase a replacement from the Dartmouth Card Office, one must pay $25 for a first and second offense and $50 thereafter. While students should certainly be responsible for replacing the cost of the lost card, conducting preliminary research proves that the current replacement costs are inexplicably high. ID Card Group is a vendor that sells a variety of magnetic and proximity sensor cards on their website. Their product that most closely matches the Dartmouth card, the FPISO (a thin, glossy white card with a magnetic swipe strip and proximity sensing technology) retails for $230 for a box of 50 cards, which breaks down to $4.60 per card in materials cost. Even factoring in a labor cost of $1.40 (assuming $20 per hour, 4 minutes to produce a card) and an additional $2 in costs for operating the printer that places the student’s image and information onto the card face, the College could break even selling replacement IDs at a price of $8 each. With this information in mind, it is hard to view the College’s policy of selling the replacement cards for $25 or $50 (representing a 200 or 500 percent margin) as anything other than additional blatant extortion of students.

Late check-in fines are another aspect of the College’s cost structure that this author has had personal experience with. Upon returning to campus for the winter term of my freshman year, I became so focused on rearranging my course schedule that I missed the window (typically around 72 hours) to “check-in” online for the coming term. Because of this, I was assessed a $50 late check-in fine by the Student Financial Services office. When I went to the office to inquire about the fine, I admitted my responsibility in missing the deadline but also pointed out that the entire check-in system seemed redundant. After all, Safety and Security and DDS could both have easily verified that I was on campus by tracking the regular use of my ID card to enter dormitories and purchase meals, but the Financial Services office had no response to this point and I was forced to accept the fine. While my failure to check in could certainly have been an inconvenience for the Administration, it is hard to explain the need for $50 worth of remediation other than as a blatant attempt by the College to take advantage financially of forgetful students.

The check-in fine is only one of many unnecessarily large charges students receive for missing deadlines; the pattern continues when examining The Office Of Residential Life fining policies. If a student wishes to remain on campus during interim, he or she must complete an application about one month prior. Any student who fails to meet the deadline but wishes to stay in one of Dartmouth’s residence halls over interim will be automatically charged a $50 fine. Despite perhaps making a few College employees responsible for altering students’ ID card access, there seems to be no explanation for the high price of a late interim application. The campus is relatively empty when classes are not in session, and allowing students to remain in their rooms in otherwise mostly deserted residence halls is hardly a headache for the housing staff. It is unreasonable to think that students’ travel plans and other vacation activities will always be set a month in advance, leaving many students with changed plans subject to the $50 fee.

To keep pace with the D-Plan, students often make last-minute decisions regarding their housing assignments, whether due to off-campus internships, alterations in one’s classes or major, participation in foreign study programs, or health reasons. After selecting a room through the room-draw or receiving housing after being removed from the waitlist, a $250 fee will be charged to students who cancel their assignments before the termly deadlines; any changes in housing plans after these dates will result in an increased fine of $500. The cancellation deadlines are normally about two weeks before the start of each quarter, with the exception of fall term. In 2014, students were fined $250 for housing assignment cancellations between May 10 (the end of room draw) and July 16. While fall term did not officially commence until mid-September of 2014, cancellations made after the July 16 deadline left students subject to a weighty $500 charge. The same fines and deadlines also apply to those who vacate their assigned rooms and move into a Greek house. When it comes to end-of-term policies, there is another host of inexplicable fines that the housing staff is ready to implement. According to the “Fall Closing Checklist” released in 2014, anyone found in a residence hall after the deadline (usually the day after finals period ends) will be fined $100 and be subject to disciplinary action.

Another area in which Dartmouth imposes arbitrary fines is through College-issued parking tickets, which are under an entirely separate system from those issued by the Hanover municipal authorities. Forrest Beck, Class of 2015, has had a particularly bad experience in this regard, having received “multiple tickets” for parking on the back lawn of his fraternity house (SAE). Despite the fraternity’s lawn being privately owned property, Dartmouth justified the tickets by claiming he “violated College policy by parking on a lawn.” Since neither SAE’s lawn nor the access road to park on it are in any way owned by the college, this claim is plainly absurd and would never hold up in court. Forrest’s parents had already paid off the ticket charges before he was able to contest them, but his case remains an example of the egregious additional charges Dartmouth students are expected to bear.

Dartmouth’s excessive fining policies have long caused immense frustration within the student body. In reference to the nature of these extra costs, a Student Assembly report from 1998 reads that “…the current situation is a “persistent headache which detract[s] from [students’] quality of life and overall satisfaction with the College.” Clearly, not much has changed since the late 90’s, and as the costs of running Dartmouth continue to rise, it is unlikely that the college will institute more reasonable fees anytime in the near future.

Julie A. McConville, John Hammel Strauss, and James G. Rascoff also contributed to this report.