Editorial: Encouraging Transparency on Course Expenses

By the Editorial Board Some of the required supplies for Introduction to Drawing. Henry Brefka '17

With a whopping tuition of $59,942, including room and board, no one is fooling themselves into believing Skidmore College is inexpensive. However, tuition costs are upfront and made easily available to prospective students. The hefty fees for taking certain classes at Skidmore are not.

As part of our breadth requirement for graduation, each Skidmore student must take a class designated as an art. However, it is common knowledge among art students, and it soon becomes shockingly apparent to newcomers, that art classes entail numerous unlisted extra fees.

For an idea of just how pricy the average introductory level art class at Skidmore can get, Introduction to Drawing has cost students $200-300 for required supplies, although the price tag can vary with the professor. These students were not made aware of the specific supplies they needed until class began. Color Theory requires about $120 for paint and supplies, which one student reports actually using only about $40-worth throughout the semester. Another student dropped the course because they could not afford to pay for additional supplies. Printing paper for Intro to Printmaking costs $10 per sheet of paper, of which one student reports already having used three in just the past two weeks. Students were not made aware of the cost of printing paper unless they inquired ahead of time themselves. Jewelry and Metals 1 requires a starting kit for which students expected to pay $90, but ended up paying $150. Communication Design 1 students report having to spend an additional $130 on top of the preexisting $105 lab fee.

That being said, art is not the only discipline that springs unforeseen costs on students. Business and Organization Management (MB107) required its students to purchase an $80 set of case studies, which they were unaware of until the second week of the semester. However, these kinds of instances are more rare.

Few of the supply costs are explicit in course descriptions and some professors withhold this information deliberately so that they can go over the specifics in class. This practice prevents students from looking online for affordable options and assumes that they will readily have the spare money to purchase their supplies.

Of course, the arts are not the only department that demands extra fees, and the Board understands that classes require additional costs. The prices aforementioned are not unreasonably high. Rather, what the Board disagrees with is the lack of price transparency for supplies required by many art classes. Textbooks, required for the majority of academic courses, often surpass art supplies in price, but students are made aware of their classes' required reading far in advance, which gives them adequate time to compare prices. Renting a book or purchasing a used textbook is a great way to save money, but is not an option for art supplies.

It is important to note that the Board recognizes that withholding required materials from students does not hold true for all professors. Many are very conscientious about letting students know in advance what they will need to purchase. And we certainly are not accusing the professors who do not inform students of acting maliciously. But the board does ask that all professors consider the affordability of class supplies. Transparency would make required purchases much more manageable for students. Knowing the extra costs a few weeks before the first class, and ideally before even enrolling in the course, seems fair. That way, no student will be blindsided in their first week by the need to leave campus and spend hundreds of dollars of pocket money on supplies they never knew they needed.

On another note, many students report never finding a use for some of the leftover supplies that they purchased for a certain course. We would like to bring to the student body’s attention the Skidmore Swap Sale, an online forum in which students can exchange or sell items they no longer need. Using that forum, unused or lightly used supplies can be passed on and offer more affordable options amongst students on campus. As of now, it is underused and unpublicized. Perhaps if more students began visiting the forum, the school could work on improving its online format. The forum would also be great for the exchange of textbooks.

We do not ask for changes to the curriculum, or even for supplies to be readily available for students. But we do ask that professors keep in mind the burden of expenses they place on students and allow them the opportunity to minimize cost by informing them ahead of time what exactly it is that will be required of them.

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