It costs to walk on the campus of Worcester State University.
A “parking/pedestrian access fee” — part of the welter of mandatory and optional student fees that make up the bulk of the cost of a public higher education in the state and the only one at a Central Massachusetts public college or university — has for the last few years been tacked onto WSU students’ bills, whether they drive or walk to school.
Beyond simmering discontent over the $72-a-year pedestrian charge, students returning to school last week after winter break were rankled by a severe parking crunch that has further squeezed the campus’s already tight parking and forced school officials to institute an unpopular shuttle to Worcester Regional Airport three miles away.
“I think when everyone is on break is the only time you could find parking at WSU,” said Alfred Sogja, a freshman from Worcester.
University officials acknowledge they have a parking shortage, one that will persist for three or four more years, but maintain it is an unavoidable consequence of growth, including a new $45 million athletic complex, new dorms and full-scale library renovation.
And the pedestrian fee is needed to help maintain walkways in an era of decreased state funding for public colleges and universities, they say.
“When you only have a certain amount of money coming from the state, unfortunately the only way to make it work is through fees,” said John Brissette, chairman of the Worcester State Board of Trustees.
For the 2012-2013 academic year, tuition constitutes only 11.7 percent of the average cost of attending one of Massachusetts’ nine state universities, with fees making up the bulk of what the students must pay. Students are paying an average of $8,283 in tuition and fees, nearly double the cost a decade ago.
As for parking, Fitchburg State University charges commuting students $50 a year to park, and residents $100. Quinsigamond Community College charges parkers $20 a semester. Mount Wachusett Community College, another commuter-only school, has no parking permit fee. Unlike Worcester State, none of these schools charges a pedestrian fee.