Nickel and Dimed

You live in Escondido Village, and it is pouring. You’ve got to get to SAE, to work on a computer science project with a friend. You’ve got two options: a) bike to SAE with your computer and arrive sopping wet (a 10-12 minute bike ride), or b) drive to SAE?

If you chose option b), then you made the same choice as my friend. Unfortunately, it would have also cost you $45 – as you are parked out of your zone. You would have been punished for your pursuit of an academic goal, at an academic institution.

Cost of living is frequently a buzz word in ASSU Elections; unfortunately, it all too often focuses on reducing the costs of things students are *required *to purchase (a notable cause, but one in which little progress has been made – think of all the failed book exchanges), as opposed to fees and penalties such as parking tickets that students have the misfortune of running into during their Stanford careers.

While I fully understand that penalty systems are necessary to generate good behavior, Stanford should think carefully about whether some penalties currently in place are fair, and whether they realistically achieve the desired results.

The concept of parking zones makes sense, and allows Stanford to disincentivize certain parking behaviors (if only to ensure that other paying pass holders are guaranteed spots in their zones). However, consider the SAE parking lot – it is nowhere near anything else on campus, and thus not likely to fall victim to “out-of-zone” cars filling it up. In parking lots like these, any Stanford parking pass should be accepted.

Instead, my friend finds himself re-paying 16% of his $282 parking pass, for making a perfectly reasonable decision. Lowering fees for students who have a parking pass, but for the wrong area, and reconsidering the exclusivity of remote parking lots are two possible solutions to this problem.

Unfortunately, examples such as parking passes are rife throughout Stanford life. Consider the $200 registrar class registration fee – if students are not enrolled in 12 units by the first Monday of school, a time when many students are still adding and dropping classes (the add/drop class deadline does not even come until week 4), they are fined a whopping $200.

I had the misfortune of missing this deadline, precisely because I had not yet determined my course load for the quarter. Friends of mine who did not miss the deadline, but faced the same dilemma of not knowing which classes they would be taking, simply enrolled for courses they had no intention of taking to meet the 12 unit deadline. Adding 5 unit courses such as Math 51 and Econ 1A to simply meet the deadline, and then dropping them the next day is fairly common behavior.

Once again, let’s look at the intent of this rule and compare it with the actual result.  The rule obviously tries to ensure students take a legitimate course load, and also invest more time planning their schedule.  However, I am a winter quarter senior, and will be graduating after 4 years with a degree in computer science.  I think it’s safe to say I’ve put some planning into my 4 years of coursework.  Furthermore, after paying the full price of tuition, is there anything wrong with only being signed up for 10 units?  If anything, I would just be paying more for less.

Some other favorite fees – the Cardinal Care insurance cost, which is charged even if you have pre-existing coverage (without explicit student approval), the Vaden services fee, the ever increasing Special Fees students vote to levy on themselves (incredibly), and a whole host of others.

Lowering the cost of living for college students, many of who are working to put themselves through an expensive Stanford education, should be a priority for the ASSU and the University administration. One way to do this would be to revisit the various penalty systems in place on campus, and evaluate them under the “fairness” and “effectiveness” lenses. Punishing students for parking in relatively isolated lots on rainy days to complete schoolwork, and fining students for not signing up for classes when nearly 4 weeks remain until the “add” deadline are two great places to start.

Taking a macro-scale look at the various fees and penalties levied by this University is a worthwhile endeavor; special attention should be paid to the financial impact they have on students.

*Steve Flory is a senior, majoring in Computer Science. *

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