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Credit: Lucy Ferry

Penn's tuition cost is rising at twice the rate of the national average of other private colleges, prompting some students to question exactly where their money is going. 

The total cost to attend Penn includes more than just tuition. For the current academic year, the total undergraduate cost is $53,534, which is a 3.9 percent increase from last year. Tuition itself costs $47,416, and the additional fees are broken down into three other categories: a general fee, which costs $4,752, a technology fee, which costs $820, and a student health and clinical fee, which costs $546.

The Student Financial Services website indicates that the general fee "partially supports facilities such as the library systems, museums, and special laboratories, and also provides access to University fitness facilities." The technology category covers the cost of computer labs and services, and the student health and clinical fee provides access to Student Health Service for students at Penn.

This is the first year that there is no separate category for the recreation fee, which previously enabled students to gain access to recreation facilities like the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center. Last year, the recreation fee cost $362 and the general fee cost $4,224. However, because the recreation fee was parked under the general fee this year, the general fee rose to $4,752, constituting a 12.5 percent increase. 

In an emailed statement, Vice President of Budget and Management Analysis Trevor Lewis wrote that the reason for this change was to provide gym access to all full-time graduate and professional students. 

Prior to this academic year, the recreation fee was optional for graduate and professional students. Now, the fee will be made mandatory over the next four years, as the general fee for graduate and professional students gradually will increase to accommodate the incorporated fee.

This shift comes at the same time as the elimination of the recreation fee for undergraduate students. The general fee will cover recreational costs for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

Lewis noted that for the 2017-2018 academic year, there will be "no change in planned growth rates" for undergraduate students. He did not indicate, however, whether the general fee will continue to grow in years after.

College sophomore Diana Kafkes said that she felt most students were unaware of exactly what services their annual cost of attendance entitles them to.

"If Penn was more forthcoming about what exactly the money went to, that would justify what we were paying for." Kafkes said. "I think it's kind of ridiculous that you have to be charged something extra."

Although Kafkes said she appreciates the fact that the mandatory fitness facilities charge is cheaper than an annual gym membership, she said she believes that many Penn students are not taking advantage of their access and are wasting their money.

"If it was something you could opt out of, I think the majority of Penn's population would opt out of paying that fee," Kafkes added.

In April, 2017 College graduate and Engineering master's student Eric Tepper, a former member of the Undergraduate Assembly, said the University must respond to student frustration over the spike in tuition cost by better communicating its budgeting decisions to students. If not, students will not be able to understand the changes that the administration makes. 

“3.9 percent [increase in total undergraduate fees] isn’t just a number they choose,” Tepper said at the time. “It is well-thought-out, which is something that Bonnie [Gibson] and other administrators have communicated to [former UA President] Kat McKay and I, but is not communicated as often and as clearly to the rest of the student population.”

Wharton freshman Rachel Kulik said she wished the University would return to its previous system of charging students a standalone recreation fee.

However, she added that she supports the University's policy of requiring all students to pay for access to fitness centers. Kulik said that doing so sends a message that exercise is important for student health and well-being.

"I'm definitely more motivated to go since I know that I do have access to it," Kulik said. "We're already paying for a lot of services including Career Services, Student Health Service, [Counseling and Psychological Services] that not everyone uses with the same frequency, or at all."