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Why Does Brookdale Charge Lab Fees when Courses are Online?

Why do we charge lab fees when the courses are online? It’s a fair question.

Brookdale uses lab fees to pay the people who set up, run, and clean up the labs. When we moved online, those folks’ duties changed from physical setup and cleanup to designing online labs, making videos for them, developing kits, and doing what needs to be done to ensure that students are able to meet the objectives of the course. “Consumables,” in the sense of lab specimens or chemicals, were typically a small piece of the puzzle. The main cost is labor.

Labor didn’t go away when we moved online. We’ve had lab technicians put in overtime over the summer to put simulations online, learn new technologies for demonstrations at a distance — did you know that document cameras work really well for seeing into internal combustion engines? I didn’t, until now — and even convert quizzes and lab reports to new formats. All of that work is for the benefit of the students in the class.

In the case of Public Speaking, there are no consumables; the lab fee pays for the instructional assistant whose job it is to help students outside of class. He’s still there. If you find yourself needing a little extra attention in the Public Speaking class, I encourage you to reach out to him. That’s what he’s there for.

Some schools forego lab fees, instead rolling the costs into higher tuition. I’ll admit having some sympathy for that approach. It’s simpler, and it avoids questions like these. Brookdale has chosen not to do that for two reasons, one good and one necessary. The good reason is a sense that students who take a lot of classes that are cheaper to provide shouldn’t subsidize students who take a lot of classes that are more expensive to provide. By adding a lab fee to, say, Biology, but not to Political Science, we spare the Poli Sci majors from having to subsidize the Bio majors. As a former Poli Sci major, I see the virtue in that. The necessary reason is that if we were just to roll up the various fees into tuition — one rate to rule them all — it would register in the local press as a massive tuition increase. That impression would be misleading, since it wouldn’t account for the eliminated fees, but headlines matter. That headline would lead to angry politicians attacking us for raising tuition when people are struggling. We could try to explain that the total cost hadn’t changed, but in politics, anger tends to defeat nuance.

I understand the suspicion of being asked to pay for something that you don’t think you’re getting. At Brookdale, “critical thinking” is one of the general education outcomes that we expect every student to be able to demonstrate. It’s only fair if you apply that skill to Brookdale itself. My response is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I’ve seen lab technicians come in on weekends over the summer to test out demonstrations for students to do at home. I’ve personally authorized faculty to come in during the summer to make videos for their classes this fall. I don’t expect the classes in September to resemble the classes in April. In March, the pandemic caught us off-guard, as it did everybody else; everyone did what they could, on the fly. But heading towards September, everybody knows what will be online. (In our case, everything that can be!) We’ve had time to prepare. Preparation makes all the difference.

Finally, and I know this isn’t what anyone wants to hear but it’s still true, Brookdale remains far more affordable than any other higher education option in the area. (And that’s even before mentioning the Community College Opportunity Grant, or New Jersey’s version of free community college.) Even including fees, our total cost for a Monmouth County resident is a fraction of what you would pay at any other college in the state, public or private. Even better, if you stick with us and graduate, you become eligible for discounted tuition at several four-year colleges in the area, including Rutgers, Georgian Court, NJCU, Rider, and even Southern New Hampshire University. With our latest agreement with SNHU, for instance, a student can do three years with Brookdale and one with SNHU at a discount, graduating with a bachelor’s degree for a total cost of less than $30,000. (Rounding up, it’s six plus six plus six plus nine, or 27.) As an old commercial used to say, if you can find a better deal, take it. If you intend to transfer onward after Brookdale, I encourage you to visit our office of transfer and articulation to find out which options might make the most sense for you.

Best wishes for the Fall,

Matthew Reed, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs
Brookdale Community College
765 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, NJ 07738