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UCLA overcharges students for administrative changes, provides insufficient reasons

UCLA charges students a variety of fees that they’re forced to pay. But if it’s going to insist on fining students, the university should at least convey why these costs exist and what they go toward. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Tabatha Lewis-Simó

May 1, 2019 11:04 p.m.

It seems UCLA has followed Amazon’s trigger-happy, money draining scheme: With a simple mouse click or two, students can incur hundreds in fines.

UCLA charges students a multitude of fees for things ranging from health care to dropping classes. Students can pay the majority of these fees online using BruinBill. If they fail to do so in a timely manner, they can be charged late fees and may be dropped from their classes.

The most common charges are degree candidacy and study list change fees. Students are charged $20 by the College of Letters and Science if they declare their graduation term after they have surpassed 160 units. In addition, they are charged $15 if they wish to declare their graduation date to be later than the expected four years.

Study list changes can see students fined $5 to $50 depending on the week of the quarter. Yet students cannot always foresee what difficulties will arise later in the quarter once the second week deadline is passed.

It seems no matter what the situation is, UCLA has a fee ready to tack onto students’ BruinBills.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the university isn’t clear about why these fees are charged or what costs they make up. But students have to pay them regardless.

The lack of transparency makes it difficult to gauge whether students are being overcharged. Instead, they have to take UCLA’s word for it. But financial matters merit more than blind faith – and the university shouldn’t continue to take advantage of students in this way.

UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the university typically charges students to offset the cost of providing these services.

But it seems like these fees more than break even. It’s illogical that it is free to drop a class the second week of the quarter, yet costs $20 to drop it three weeks later. The student already has to deal with the time they wasted in the class, as well as their decision to drop recorded on their transcripts.

Similarly, the university imposes the requirement that students declare their candidacy term to graduate by punishing them financially. But that fee is redundant: If students do not declare their candidacy term, they may have to begin repaying private loans ahead of time and may be disqualified from internships that require a particular graduation term.

Tory Coffin, a third-year geography and environmental studies student, said it doesn’t make sense that students are charged so much to drop a class.

“I (didn’t) really know where my money was going,” Coffin said.

Coffin dropped a chemistry course during the fifth week of her freshman year after she changed her major and the course would no longer have contributed to her degree. Though Coffin’s parents were able to help her pay the fee, that isn’t the case for all students.

Carlos Hernandez, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, said he used money left over from financial aid to pay for his late candidacy term fees.

“I thought I could graduate spring quarter but found out I needed two extra general education courses,” Hernandez said.

It is illogical to charge students for each successive change to their graduation date if those changes are made within a short amount of time. A student could change their degree candidacy term three times over the span of ten minutes and they would be charged for each successive change, despite there being only one net change at the end of the day.

Clearly, this isn’t offsetting costs.

Moreover, these fees disproportionately affect students of lower socio-economic status. That’s in addition to how dropping a class affects a student’s GPA, which has further implications for their graduate school aspirations.

What’s worse – students aren’t always told they were charged a fee at all until a hold is placed on their account.

Ashley Lanuza, a third-year psychology student, said she was charged more than $1,000 for a summer class she dropped.

“I dropped it week two because it was too expensive to have all of these classes,” Lanuza said. “I did not realize they would charge me.”

Lanuza added if she did not pay the fee by fall quarter, she would not have been eligible for enrollment so she had to borrow money from family members.

With all these different fees and penalties, it’s no wonder students want to know what they’re being charged for. But there’s no information available that breaks down these costs or acknowledges why they exist at all.

And UCLA refuses to give information on how much providing online services such as changes to a student’s study list and candidacy term costs the university.

But a digital system that allows students to make changes to their degree with a simple click should have costs just as easily accessible.

While these fees seemingly discourage students from missing deadlines or making last-minute decisions, Bruins already have enough deterrents from doing so. You don’t need to pay $50 to drop a class when your transcript will already be tainted.

College is meant to be a place for students to make mistakes and grow from them. UCLA shouldn’t take that as an excuse to extort money from them at every turn.

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Tabatha Lewis-Simó | Opinion columnist | News contributor
Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
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