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AGLO 1980 No. 29 - October 22, 1980
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES ‑- COMMUNITY COLLEGES ‑- TUITION ‑- FEES ‑- IMPOSITION OF CERTAIN FEES BY COMMUNITY COLLEGES

(1) A community college district board of trustees does not have the statutory authority to charge all students who enroll a common consolidated fee in lieu of all of the special, laboratory, or similar fees that a student might be assessed during the time he or she attends the college.

(2) A community college board of trustees does not have authority to assess a parking fee to all enrolled students, whether or not they drive an automobile to the campus and utilize parking facilities.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                October 22, 1980

Dr. John N. Terrey
Executive Director
State Board for Community College Education
319 Seventh Avenue
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1980 No. 29

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested the opinion of this office on the following four questions:

            "1. Does a community college district board of trustees have statutory authority to charge all students who enroll a common consolidated fee in lieu of all other special, laboratory, or similar fees that the student might be assessed during the time he or she attends the college?

            "2. Does the board of trustees have authority to assess a parking fee to all enrolled students, whether or not they drive an automobile to the campus and utilize parking facilities?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "3. Do the factual circumstances related to the manner in which a college district accounts for or uses revenue from such consolidated fees have any bearing upon the authority of the college district to assess such a fee?

            "4. In the event your answer to question #1 is in the negative, are there any circumstances under which a college district may consolidate special or laboratory fees into a uniform charge made to all students who enroll?"

            We answer all four questions in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            We start with the basic proposition that a community college, as an agency of the state of Washington,1/ has only those powers granted by the legislature, either expressly or by necessary implication.  State ex rel. Holcomb v. Armstrong, 39 Wn.2d 860, 239 P.2d 545 (1952).  Thus, the basic issue here to be explored is one involving legislative intent‑-as related to the particular fees which the legislature intended to authorize a community college district board of trustees to charge, across the board, to all enrolled students vis-a-vis those special fees which may be charged to individual students for particular programs or the use of particular college facilities.  And, accordingly, in responding to your questions, we will be guided by certain rules of statutory construction‑-among which is the basic proposition that in interpreting a legislative enactment, its provisions are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning in the absence of some clear indication of legislative intent to the contrary.  See,e.g.,State ex rel. State Retirement Board v. Yelle, 31 Wn.2d 87, 195 P.2d 646 (1948); and Parkhurst v. Everett, 51 Wn.2d 292, 318 P.2d 327 (1957).  In addition, another rule of construction which is pertinent here is one which says that statutory provisions relating to the same subject matter (i.e., in para materia) are to be read in relation to each other so that all such provisions may be given effect and each will be read consistently and harmoniously with the others.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681, 203 P.2d 693 (1949).

                         [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The basic statute outlining the fees which a community college may charge is RCW 28B.15.500 which reads, in material part, as follows:

            "General tuition fees, operating fees and services and activities fees at each community college other than at summer quarters shall be as follows:

            "(1) For full time resident students, . . . for the 1978-79 academic year, and thereafter, the total of general tuition and operating fees shall be two hundred and fifty-five dollars:  PROVIDED, That the general tuition fee . . . shall be one hundred and twenty-four dollars and fifty cents.

            "(2) For full time nonresident students, for each academic year of the 1977-79 biennium, and thereafter, the total of general tuition and operating fees shall be one thousand one hundred and thirty-seven dollars:  PROVIDED, That the general tuition fee for such academic years and each academic year thereafter shall be three hundred and ninety-four dollars and fifty cents.

            "(3) The boards of trustees . . . shall charge and collect equally from each of the students registering at the particular institution and included in subsections (1) and (2) hereof a services and activities fee which for each academic year shall not exceed fifty-one dollars.

            "(4) Tuition, operating fees and services and activities fees consistent with the above schedule will be fixed by the state board for community colleges for summer school students.

            "The board of trustees shall charge such fees for part time students, ungraded courses, noncredit courses, and short courses as it, in its discretion, may determine. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Also to be noted are RCW 28B.15.020, 28B.15.031 and 28B.15.041 which define "general tuition fees," "operating fees" and "services and activities fees."  Under the first of these three definitional sections, the general tuition fee is that fee charged all registering students which, in turn, is then required to be deposited in the state community college bond retirement fund pursuant to RCW 28B.50.360.

            Next, RCW 28B.15.031 defines "operating fees" as follows:

            "The term 'operating fees' as used in this chapter shall include the fees, other than general tuition fees, charged all students registering at the state's colleges and universities but shall not include fees for short courses, marine station work, experimental station work, correspondence or extension courses, and individual instruction and student deposits or rentals, disciplinary and library fines, which colleges and universities shall have the right to impose, laboratory, gymnasium, health, and student activity fees, or fees, charges, rentals, and other income derived from any or all revenue producing lands, buildings and facilities of the colleges or universities heretofore or hereafter acquired, constructed or installed, including but not limited to income from rooms, dormitories, dining rooms, hospitals, infirmaries, housing or student activity buildings, vehicular parking facilities, land, or the appurtenances thereon,or such other special fees as may be established by any college or university board of trustees or regents from time to time . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            And finally, RCW 28B.15.041 defines services and activities fees as,

            ". . . fees, other than general tuition and operating fees, charged to all students registering at the state's community colleges, regional universities, The Evergreen State College, and state universities.  Services and activities fees shall be used as otherwise provided by law or by rule or regulation of the board of trustees or regents of  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] each of the state's community colleges, The Evergreen State College, the regional universities, or the state universities for the express purpose of funding student activities and programs of their particular institution. . . ."

            On the basis of our reading of the critical language of these several statutory provisions, it is our considered opinion that the only fees which a community college may impose, on an across-the‑board basis, upon all students enrolled therein‑-regardless of their particular programs or the facilities which they may use‑-are (a) general tuition fees, (b) operating fees and (c) service and activities fees.

            In addition, by virtue of RCW 28B.15.031 (defining "operating fees" asnot including certain identified special fees), we believe that the board of trustees of a community college district may set and impose special purpose fees for particular programs or the use of particular college facilities.2/   However, reading all parts of the pertinent statutes in para materia, it appears to us that the legislature only intended that such special fees would be charged, on a case‑by-case basis, to those students enrolled in the particular programs involved or desiring to use the specific facilities (e.g., student parking lots) for which those special fees are charged.

            Conversely, we find no authority, either expressly or by necessary implication, for those boards of trustees to (in the words of your first question) ". . . charge all students who enroll a common consolidated fee in lieu of all other special, laboratory, or similar fees that the student might be assessed during the time he or she attends the college."  And that is so, in our judgment, regardless of how a given college district accounts for or uses the revenue or revenues derived from such consolidated fees.  To charge such a fee would be either to impose a tuition, operating or services activities fee(s) in excess of the statutory limits set forth in RCW 28B.15.500,supra,3/  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] or, in the alternative, would amount to the creation of an additional across-the‑board fee which the legislature has not authorized and which is not directed to the needs or activities of a particular student or group of students.

            Therefore, in summary, in direct answer to your specific questions, it is our opinion that:

            (1) A community college board of trustees does not have the statutory authority to charge all students who enroll a common consolidated fee in lieu of all other special laboratory or other similar fees that the student might be assessed during the time he or she attends the college.  Such fees can be charged only to the particular student who is involved with regard to the need or activity connected with such special fee, such as a parking fee, laboratory fee, deposit, fee, etc.

            (2) A board of trustees does not have the authority to assess a parking fee to all enrolled students whether or not they drive a car to campus and use the parking facilities since there is simply no authority to charge a common parking fee to all students unless they are utilizing the parking facilities.

            (3) There are no factual circumstances relating to the manner in which a college district accounts for or uses revenue from such consolidated fee which would have any bearing on the authority of the college to charge and assess such a fee (unless it were a fee assessed under RCW 28B.15.041 and considered part of the services and activities fee which would have been pledged for bonding purposes and thus subject to the $51 maximum per academic year).

            (4) There are no circumstances that we have been able to determine under the statutes enacted by the legislature under which a college district may consolidate special and laboratory fees into a uniform fee to be charged to all students who enroll, without regard to the particular needs or activities of those students.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

RICHARD M. MONTECUCCO
Senior Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, Centralia College Education Ass'n v. Board of Trustees, Etc., 82 Wn.2d 128, 508 P.2d 1357 (1973).

2/Note, however, that RCW 28B.15.100, which expressly authorizes additional special fees, was amended in 1977 (see, § 36, chapter 169, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess.) and thus now only pertains to four-year colleges and universities and not to community colleges.

3/Cf., AGO 61-62 No. 47, copy enclosed.

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