Despite strong efforts at energy conservation, George Washington University will impose an "oil surcharge" of up to $100 per student on top of tuition next year to pay skyrocketing heating costs on its 90-building campus in Foggy Bottom.
The university is the first in Washington -- and perhaps in the nation -- to impose a special energy surcharge, a notion borrowed from the "fuel adjustment" charges of electric utility companies.
In addition, university officials are considering applying other energy surcharges to the rents paid by 2,200 students housed in university dorms and to hospital bills at the university hospital.
"When we looked at the price of oil it seemed to be doubling every time we turned around," said GW President Lloyd H. Elliott who thought up the surcharge idea last fall as a way, among other things, to take some of the onus for rising college bills off the backs of the school's administrators.
Most of the university's buildings are heated by oil, and the nearly 100 percent increase in the price of this commodity last year led to a $700,000 deficit in the university budget.
This year, the projected deficit is $1 million, next year, another $1 million or perhaps more.
"I began to worry about how to handle this deficit and also about how to keep the reasons for (it) from being invisible," said Elliott.
Agonizing over the problem for several weeks during the budget-planning process last fall, Elliott came up with the surcharge idea. It was proposed to the university's governing board of trustees and approved this month.
While Elliott believes that the special surcharge will "focus attention" on the energy problem and thus encourage conservation, other universities continue to simply roll the increasing energy costs into their tuition bills.
And some oppose the idea of a surcharge.
"We're concerned that it would eliminate incentives for the institution to conserve," said Lawrence Landry, vice president for administration and finance at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., where energy costs have increased by $400 per student in the past year. "The long-term implications of [a surcharge] must be thought through."
But George Washington has taken exceptionally strong conservation measures for years and plans to continue, according to its vice president and treasurer, Charles Diehl.
For example, the university has a central computer that monitors energy use in all its buildings. This led to a 20 percent reduction in electricity use and an 11 percent reduction in oil use per square foot between 1974 and 1978.
Other conservation measures have included installing storm windows, consolidating heating and cooling plans and changing air distribution systems.
"One problem we face is that we [reduced energy costs] in earlier years just about all we could," said Diehl. Thus, in one sense there isn't much more room for conservation.
On the other hand, the university passed over many energy-saving ideas in past years because the school wouldn't recoup the expense of implementing them until eight or 10 years later.
Because energy costs have doubled in the last year or so, those "payback" periods are now four to five years. Diehl is now going back and taking another look at some of these expensive ideas, such as connecting separate buildings and heating them with one system.
In addition to the surcharge next year, tuition for most of George Washington's 8,700 full-time students will increase $200 or more to pay for increased salaries and operating costs. For example, a year's tuition for most entering freshman will rise from $3,200 to $3,400, with the surcharge to be added later.
The amount of the surcharge for next academic year will be set July 1, then paid by students in two installments as they register for each term. Elliott estimated that the surcharge will be from $25 to $50 per term.
Spokesmen for Howard, American and Georgetown universities said yesterday that fuel surcharges are not being considered at their institutions, but that the added costs will be rolled into higher tuition fees.