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Engineering Fee Discussion
BY Michael McEniry

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IInterim Dean of the College of Engineering Dr. James O’Hanlon spoke at the first November meeting of the Engineering Student Advisory Board (eSAB) regarding the use of professional fees paid by engineering students.

The two major needs fulfilled through the fees have been staff wages and equipment for undergraduate student labs. In the last few years, the college has needed to hire additional staff to fill various positions.

With the economic downturn in the last two to three years, the university has not received any additional funds from the state to pay for the added staff. As a result, the college increased fees to pay for additional staff members. Dr. O’Hanlon explained that faculty are required to be paid with guaranteed funds, which come from the state. They cannot be paid with student professional fees, which are not guaranteed as student enrollment could drop, causing a drop in funds. Staff, however, are not required to be paid with guaranteed funds, allowing for the use of the professional fees.

According to Dr. O’Hanlon, the staff hired and paid with these funds are varied in their positions with the college, including some temporary positions. Other uses of the fees include student scholarships, fellowships and assistantships, support of student engineering organizations, recruiting for the college and support of departmental programs.

In addition to the fees, Dr. O’Hanlon spoke about the future of the fees as well as the outlook on the College of Engineering with the university’s upcoming move to the Big Ten conference.

There are ongoing talks about restructuring the professional fees and converting them into part of students’ tuition bills. This differential tuition would mean that engineering students would pay a higher tuition but would have the ability to allow scholarship money to cover the cost. Currently, scholarship funds cannot be used to cover the professional fees.

Billed separately from tuition, the professional fees first appeared on engineering students’ bills in 2003. Questions and speculation regarding the fees, which increased from $10 in 2005 to $40 in 2006, began in 2008 when IEEE and the Graduate Student Advisory Board began inquiring about the usage of the fees. eSAB became involved soon after and together the three organizations co-authored a letter to the dean’s office requesting an explanation regarding the usage of professional fees in the college. According to Mitch Klein, president of eSAB, the letter was met with little interest by the previous dean of the college.

Regarding the move to the Big Ten, Dr. O’Hanlon explained that in comparison, Nebraska has the smallest engineering college in terms of enrollment. One concern expressed by students in attendance was how Nebraska’s engineering professors compared to engineering professors of other Big Ten institutions in terms of pay.

Compared to other Big Ten universities, Nebraska falls right in the middle of the group in terms of professor pay. It is expected the move to the Big Ten will have very favorable consequences for the UNL College of Engineering.

To illustrate this, Dr. O’Hanlon explained that when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1991, they had the smallest engineering college of the Big Ten members.

Currently, Penn State is in the middle of the Big Ten schools in terms of engineering student enrollment. UNL’s College of Engineering will have the opportunity to grow and improve significantly in the years following the move to the Big Ten.

Nearly two years later and with an interim dean in the College of Engineering, eSAB’s inquiries have been answered with detailed explanations.

deans lair“It was great to see that the dean was interested in hearing about students’ concerns and was willing to answer them,” said Mitch Klein. “We are very excited by the feedback we received from the dean to the students and hope to continue this open line of communication between eSAB and the dean’s office.”