Higher education

University of Iowa rolling out 'one and done' records fee

All new students to pay $225 for transcripts, diplomas, registration

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Students and alumni at Iowa’s public universities can pay hundreds in records-related fees during their academic careers and beyond, and the institutions are looking to cap those costs with a “one and done” charge.

The University of Iowa this fall will be the first to charge all new degree-seeking students a one-time $225 “records and documents fee” that will replace ongoing costs for transcript copies, registration changes, diploma replacement, fax expenses, and late registration, for example.

The new fee aims to eliminate the “student annoyance” of multiple charges while also creating a “consistent revenue stream.”

Students not pursuing a degree will be charged a one-time $75 fee upon their second enrollment, and they’ll be charged the balance of the $225 if they later decide to pursue a degree.

Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa are planning to ask the Board of Regents to institute similar fees in fall 2017.

Under the UI model, returning students won’t be charged the new fee, although they’ll benefit — along with alumni — in that they’ll no longer be charged for late registration, transcripts, and diploma replacements, for example.

“The ‘one and done’ concept ensures a consistent revenue stream and eliminates future frustrating assessments (the nickel and dime effect) throughout the student’s career,” according to a UI proposal for the fee change. “Furthermore, it is important to note that this fee truly covers the lifetime of a student by replacing transcripts and diplomas for free once they leave the university.”

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The eight former fees being replaced by this new single fee include $25 to replace a diploma; $7 for fax expenses; $75 for graduation and degree application; $12 for a registration drop, add, or change; $30 for registering one to five days late; $60 for registering six to 10 days late; $16 for transcript copies; and $5 for special transcript-related handling costs.

Although students under the old system could have paid more than $225 in a lifetime — if they needed a replacement diploma, requested multiple transcripts, and made numerous registration changes — they also could have paid less.

The new fee comes at a time of growing concern around student debt. The Board of Regents in December approved mandatory fee increases at all three of its public universities — 1.5 percent at UI, 3.1 percent at ISU, and nearly 4 percent at UNI.

Additionally, the board earlier this month approved across-the-board tuition increases for all students on all three campuses.

But proponents of the new consolidated records fee say it can be covered by financial aid and included in awards, an option not available under the former system.

And annual revenue from the new fee — estimated at $1.9 million — is expected to support billing functions, improve efficiency, and create goodwill “by providing free transcripts to all former students and alumni.” The “guaranteed income flow” is expected to match current expenses for the services and allow for better budget planning, according to the UI fee proposal.

UI officials expect the upfront fee will eliminate service barriers like payment processing, account holds, creation of billing statements, and the personnel interaction required to handle complaints.

“This ‘nickel and diming’ students is what bothers me the most,” Larry Lockwood, assistant provost and university registrar, said in a statement. “Students shouldn’t fear a fee when choosing whether to add or drop a course.”

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The university, in pitching the new fee to the Board of Regents, said it came up with the proposal by consulting with past and present student government leaders and conferring with the state’s other universities.

“Registrars from the three regent universities have discussed this new approach to billing students for these similar services they each provide on their respective campuses,” according to the UI proposal. “This proposed ‘university records and documents fee’ is the result of those consultations.”

At Iowa State, Registrar Laura Doering is planning to present the concept of a single “records and documents fee” to student government leaders this fall, in hopes of including it in the university’s fee proposal to the Board of Regents in October, according to ISU spokeswoman Annette Hacker.

“We want to keep the fee as low as possible, so we need some time to assess the right amount and the right time to implement such a plan,” Hacker said.

Initial conversations with ISU student government leaders have them “excited about this idea,” she said.

“Alums would never have to pay for a transcript,” Hacker said. “Students wouldn’t have to pay $12 every time they add or drop a class, nor would they have to pay a graduation fee.”

UNI, likewise, plans to start assessing a single $225 “records and documents fee” in fall 2017. It is similar to the UI fee, aimed at providing lifetime “hassle-free” records services for students, according to UNI spokesman Scott Ketelsen.

Other universities nationally known to assess a combined fee — with some variations — include Stanford University, and the universities of Minnesota, Oregon, Rochester, and California at Berkeley and Los Angeles.

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