UTEP explains tuition fees as students question specific charges during the pandemic

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Concerns circulated over social media with students questioning what specific charges meant on their Fall semester tuition at UTEP. Those students sharing screenshots of their tuition breakdown on Twitter.

UTEP biology major Melissa Esparza said she doesn’t know why fees for the Student Union or Recreation Center were added since those are not open to students or only with limited availability since the COVID-19 pandemic forced most classes to shift online.

“It’s just been very confusing because I feel like there’s been a lack of communication of where these fees are going to and where our money is going to,” Esparza said.

A student shares her tuition fees on Twitter. (Credit: Melissa Esparza)

UTEP Vice President of Student Affairs Gary Edens said those fees are mandatory and set every two years by the UT Board of Regeants.

“We are not changing any of our mandatory fees or tuition this fall we really are limited on our availability to do that so instead we are focused on providing assistance through additional financial aid and student support grants,” Edens said.

According to Edens, the library and student health center never closed to students and the Union and Recreational Sports Complex is in the works of a finalized plan to reopen to students in the fall.

“Where we can, we are opening facilities to students, of course we’re always monitoring the health situation in the community and the regulations from City, County and State officials and we’ll make adjustments if need be,” Edens said.

Esparza said she is paying more this year for tuition because she has to do all classes online with the exception of a lab in person.

“When I looked at my bill for the fall I was charged that online fee which I don’t think it’s fair because I don’t have the option of picking in person or online because every course is online,” Esparza said.

Some students also questioned a charge labeled as “UG distancing fee” which UTEP said has nothing to do with the pandemic and social distant learning.

“We do have a distance learning fee for students who normally are in distant courses so we have a slate of programs where you take your courses online, it has nothing to with the pandemic, these courses have been there a long time, for students who are in those programs that fee will be assessed,” Edens said.

UTEP said for students who had to make the switch to online courses from face-to-face, they will waive those online course fees.

” If you are taking online courses because of the pandemic you are not charged online distance learning fees so that’s one fee we have waived for our students, so if the student has a couple of courses on campus, they wont be charged any online fees they will be just charged the mandatory fees like always,” Edens said.

UTEP said through the CARES Act it was able to provide assistance to students in the Spring and Summer courses after the pandemic abruptly halted in-person classes.

“When this hit, for example, we knew some students would not have computers or access to WiFi and we gave over a million dollars in technology support to students and we’re going to make sure we’re doing that again in the fall,” Edens said.

UTEP said it expects another five to six million dollars in student aid to provide students in the Fall semester.

“We are using that money for the fall to purchase computers and laptops and hot spots and so students who are having any issues they do need to reach out to us we don’t want them to stop that progress to getting that degree because of the pandemic,” Edens said.

However, Esparza said not all students may qualify or receive enough assistance due to loss of employment during the pandemic or those who’s parents lost their jobs and can’t help.

“It hasn’t been easy and not every student has received the financial aid they need,” Esparza said.

UTEP said it encourages students to reach out for assistance or any tuition questions so they can help.

” I understand that tuition and mandatory fees are always an issue for students and unfortunately we can’t do a lot in that area but we can do a lot in providing support to our students both financially and academic and student support services and that’s what we’re going to focus on this fall,” Edens said.

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