'Academic excellence' is worth extra, but a fee is the wrong way

Recently, it has been approved 10-1 by the SUNY Board of Trustees that Geneseo should be permitted to institute a $1,000 fee for "academic excellence." The decision prompted a great deal of backlash against the SUNY system and Geneseo specifically. Reactions ranged from calling the fee a 'back-door' tuition hike to accusing Geneseo of painting itself as 'holier-than-thou' to the more expensive private schools.

The instinctual reaction against shelling out additional money is completely natural for both students and their parents who already feel that they are exorbitant fees. Geneseo is consistently listed as one of the best bargains in the country, and is becoming increasingly reputable outside of the SUNY system (for example, the recent NCATE accreditation for the Ella Cline Shear School of Education). Instituting a mandatory fee, however, creates almost as many problems as it potentially solves.

Any student who has missed the chance to take a class because the professor who offered it has left the school should recognize the value of a larger faculty body. Those students who have been in a classroom of 250 can see the value of smaller class sizes. Individuals who have been cautioned about the asbestos in their walls, window caulking or ceilings should not only understand, but insist upon the renovation and construction of new, safer residence halls.

Yet, there are a considerable number of students at Geneseo for whom the cost of attendance and residence are already an extreme strain, and this mandatory fee seems to disregard the concerns of those coming from lower income households. If these individuals are expected to pay this fee, Geneseo will embody the elitist attitude of which it is sometimes accused, furthering problems in recruiting a more diverse student body and faculty. This is a cyclical problem in which the lack of diversity on one end promotes a similar discrepancy on the other side, which will only intensify as the cost of attendance skyrockets out of range for low-income households.

Perhaps the fee would make more sense if it were to be established with a waiver policy, in which individuals coming from low income homes would not be required to pay such a fee. This was initially suggested by the Democrat and Chronicle's G. Christopher Belle-Isle in his article "Fee may shut out students from SUNY Geneseo." Additionally, Geneseo has yet to really tap the potential for alumni contributions. While 80 percent of Geneseo graduates work and live in New York State, philanthropy efforts only started in the 1980s and have not been given heavy priority until very recent years. If the efforts to build upon such contributions are given continual consideration, the SUNY system is bound to receive the necessary funds to enhance the college even further.

The necessity for additional funds towards making Geneseo "the premier public liberal-arts college in the country" is very clearly established; it simply should not rest solely on its current students, especially those who struggle to afford tuition at its current level.