Students continue to question the purpose of UNF’s ‘distance learning fee’

Phoebe Mullis, Reporter

The distance learning fee, listed in all students’ account summary by term, has been a hot topic since the closure of the University of North Florida (UNF) during COVID-19, leaving some students wondering why they’re still being charged.

The purpose of the fee is, “to support the additional costs of tools and services which are attributable to the development and delivery of distance learning,” according to UNF. However, the university is nonspecific about what tools and services are provided by the fee. 

Most tools — Canvas, PowerPoint, Zoom and more — are available free to students regardless of whether the course is being taught online or in-person. 

Zoom icon on an Apple device
Zoom icon (iyus sugiharto/Unsplash)

In a breakdown of tuition fees, this fee has been $30 per credit hour for several years. For a three-credit-hour course, this means the distance learning fee is $90. If a student takes four online courses in a semester, they’ll be charged a fee of $360.  A fee like this can quickly add up and students not seeing an additional benefit began to question where their money was going. 

Dr. Deb Miller, assistant vice president for Digital Learning and Academic Affairs, described the purpose of the distance learning fee similarly to the official statement provided by the university. However, there are two major ways the fee supports students and faculty according to Dr. Miller: teams of instructional designers and people who coordinate student support services.

“Some examples might include online proctoring services […] captioning services for media and online courses, video captioning, [a] variety of different faculty and student support and training, specialized software, subscription to content,” she said.  

A portion of the fee is directed toward staff salaries for those that directly support students and faculty, Dr. Miller said. 

“We have a coordinator of Distance Learning Student Services who works as a liaison throughout the campus to make sure that online students have access to the same level of services as other students,” she explained.

A woman wearing a white mask gestures at a TV while giving a powerpoint presentation

While this fee isn’t new, students first began to speak out against it during the pandemic because their only option was to take online courses. Lindsey Gaynor, a UNF senior at the time, told First Coast News they were being charged without receiving any benefit in return for the cost. 

“The distance-learning fee is only assessed for courses that were planned to be delivered in this modality prior to COVID-19. Courses that were switched to remote instruction due to COVID-19 are not assessed the fee,” UNF said in a statement released in 2020. 

Spinnaker asked UNF for comment on the distance learning fee and Media Relations Manager Amanda Ennis provided the following statement:

“The Distance Learning Fee is set prior to the beginning of each fiscal year which runs from July 1st to June 30th. This fee gets reviewed each fiscal year through the auxiliary budget oversight process and is ultimately approved by the President and Board of Trustees. There is no change to the fee approved for this upcoming fiscal year compared to last fiscal year. It will remain at $30 per credit hour for each course that students enroll in which is marked as ‘Distance Learning.’”


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