Piedmont 20/20: Tuition increase, technology fee implemented as STEP disappears

Piedmont+20%2F20%3A+Tuition+increase%2C+technology+fee+implemented+as+STEP+disappears

This is the second story in a three-part series examining changes at Piedmont College.

SAM NEGRON Contributing Writer

Piedmont students will be dishing out a little more money for their education next year, but President James Mellichamp hopes students will see more bang for their buck.

After years of touting itself as a “fee-free institution,” all students will be charged a new $100 technology fee beginning fall 2017. The fee will be charged each semester. Mellichamp said the extra funds generated will be used to improve technology available for students across campus, most noticeably Wi-Fi speeds.

“Wi-Fi is very important to student success,” Mellichamp said. “We know the students don’t like the speed of the Wi-Fi.”

Although happy about the prospect of improved technology, some students feel a technology fee is an unfair way to improve the situation.

“I don’t understand why we would pay for technology fee when it should be included in tuition and room and board,” said Shannon Baker, junior mass communications major. “At my other school (Genessee Community College in Batavia, New York) we had separate Wi-Fi between the school and dorms.”

Mellichamp said he understands the concerns, but notes that a separate technology fee dedicated to improving student technology will put more accountability on the institution, and should raise student expectations.

“Look at it this way: the students will now be empowered to voice their opinions about the Wi-Fi speed,” he said. At least now if they are paying for it, they have the right to complain about it.”

Along with the technology fee there will be a 5 percent increase in tuition for the 2017-18 school year. Mellichamp said the increase is necessary as operational costs increase, including paying for faculty and staff and building maintenance.

In 2016, Piedmont was recognized for its affordability, ranking 20th out of 100 Southeastern institutions in Washington Monthly magazine’s “Best Bang for the Buck.” Additionally, the college was named a “Best Value School in the Southeast” by U.S. News and World Report. Despite the tuition increase, Mellichamp is confident Piedmont will remain among the best values in the region.

“This will just put us up right there with other schools that are our size,” said Mellichamp. The Piedmont College website lists tuition for the 2017-18 school year at $24,468, including the added technology fee. Comparatively, tuition and fees for the previous year were $33,556 at Berry College and $27,152 at Brenau University, two other private Georgia institutions that placed in the U.S.

News rankings for “Best Regional Universities in the South.” Some students said they wouldn’t mind the tuition increase, but only if they could see where the money was going, such as improved parking on campus or updated computers throughout campus.

“I think it wouldn’t be as terrible if they showed more improvements in school better computers for other buildings, more parking maybe,” said Baker. “If we can’t see improvements, then I would be frustrated with a tuition increase.”

Junior environmental science major Tatianna Burkett said that she understands the necessity of an increase in tuition, however, she would like to know more information about how the money is being spent.

“It would be nice to see where the money is actually going,” she said. “I don’t mind paying more if it is in fact benefitting me.”

Another change students will notice is the elimination of the short-lived STEP program. Instituted last year, the STEP program allowed students to bank credit hours during the fall and spring semester and use them in the summer.

Leslie Pritchett, a junior mass communications major, was one of the students who took a class in summer 2016 because of STEP.

“I took a class last summer that I wouldn’t have normally taken had the program not been available,” she said. “Now that it is ending I probably won’t take a summer class.”

Mellichamp said not as many students as expected participated in the program last summer. STEP was implemented to help improve retention, but Mellichamp said the program ended up being a financial strain on the college.

The STEP opportunities in summer 2017 will be limited, and the program will disappear in 2018. Despite the multiple budgetary changes to be implemented next year, Mellichamp said Piedmont College is on firm financial ground. He cites the “Financial Responsibility” report issued last year by the United States Department of Education that gave Piedmont College a solid score.

“If you look at the Financial Responsibility Composite scores, we are a 3,” he said. “That’s the highest ranking a school can get. We are on solid footing.”