The new “career services” fee approved by the Ohio University Board of Trustees in January will cost students an estimated $576 over the course of four years, but the university has not decided how the money from it will be distributed.

The Board of Trustees voted to approve the career fee at a rate of $6 per credit hour for all undergraduate students on the Athens campus, as well as those at regional campuses. The fee will first be implemented with the fall 2018 class and will not affect students already under the OHIO Guarantee program.

The fee will cap at 12 credit hours, meaning it will cost about $72 per semester for full-time students or $576 over the course of four years. 

When Ohio passed its biennium budget for 2018-19, it did so with a freeze on tuition and fee increases for the state’s public universities, but it allowed colleges and universities to instead establish a special fee for career and development services.

OU Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina said the fee is not meant to offset budget constraints or replace dollars in the budget. 

“We’re not allowed to charge students a fee and then not expand our services,” Pina said. “So it wasn’t put in there just to offset budget constraints or to replace dollars in the budget.” 

The fee was first discussed at the state level in the summer. In December, OU President Duane Nellis, in conjunction with the president’s council, discussed the option of expanding career services and implementing the fee. 

OU Trustee David Pidwell said he hopes the expansion of services will be a “two-way avenue” that both enables students to find career opportunities and enables industries to seek out students. 

“It’s a gateway of opportunity to go both ways,” Pidwell said at the January board meeting. 

Meanwhile, Pina worked with the staff of the Career Leadership and Development Center to identify gaps that were historically present in services offered by the center. For now, it is still unclear how the money from the fee will be distributed. 

“There hasn’t been an avenue for the CLDC to ask for budget increases,” Pina said. “Because we actually reduced their budget last year.” 

The OU CLDC operated with a budget of $938,379 for fiscal year 2018. 

The process of implementing the new fee, Pina said, has been “a little convoluted” due to back-and-forth between the university and the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. 

“The issue with the process is that it’s not clean,” Pina said. “The Ohio Department of Education Chancellor’s office wanted to ensure that our Board of Trustees supported a new fee before they would look at any proposal. And then the Board of Trustees wanted to know, at least in broad strokes what would we use the fee for.”

Compared to peer universities, OU’s CLDC is staffed slightly below average with 12 full-time employees and five graduate assistants on its professional staff. Of the schools used in a Board of Trustees comparison, the average university CLDC staffs about 16 full-time employees.

The College of Arts and Sciences, Patton College of Education, and College of Health Sciences and Professions all have counselors who split time between the CLDC and advisory positions within their respective colleges. 

“That’s a model that we like,” Pina said. “It’s a shared responsibility between the CLDC and the colleges. But not every college has that.” 

Board of Trustees Chair Janetta King said she hopes that model, which “happens already on campus in pockets,” will be available to everyone. 

“That’s an important part of the higher education experience,” King said. “Translating what you do into real-life work experiences.”

By the March 22 Board of Trustees meeting, the university hopes to have feedback from the academic deans and chancellor, as well as from open forums, which Pina said have already been held.