How Colleges Nickel and Dime Students

College tuition rises at almost six percent above the national inflation rate. Yet, students aren’t just paying astronomical sums in tuition; colleges are also collecting millions in hidden charges either rolled up into tuition or assessed seemingly at random.

Some of these fees, like parking and activities fees, aren’t about to go away. But other fees, like $3,049 to choose a major in digital media and animation, are both egregious and esoteric.

What Are Hidden Fees?

Universities use hidden and additional fees as a way of hiding the price of college to entice more students while covering the cuts made by state legislatures.

For example, the University of Oklahoma charges a $3,324 “academic excellence fee” for every student; the money goes towards recruiting and paying faculty, which is the job of the school budget and the state government, not individual students.

These figures are damaging for all students, but they can be particularly horrifying for students who arrive at college with scholarships covering 100% of their tuition only to find university fees of $10,000 aren’t included.

Of course, receiving a five-figure bill for additional fees isn’t exactly nickel and diming, but it is a symptom of what colleges are trying to do to recoup the money being cut from state budgets. And they’re trying to do it without being transparent about what the fees are, who owes them, and why students should pay them.

An Epidemic of Confusing Fees

These fees aren’t limited to public universities suffering from funding cuts in conservative states. They are an epidemic across the nation and are sometimes far over the price of tuition itself. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the mandatory fees charged by the school cost six times more than in-state tuition.

These large mandatory fees aren’t the only way colleges are coming after students for more money.

Students are hit with other fees for “freshman counseling,” “undergraduate entering,” and strangely enough, one college levies a fee for a free HIV test. Paying fees can severely impact students’ finances, but not paying them can result in academic probation or even force them to drop out.

These fees are added for a few reasons. In some cases, states lock tuition in at a set rate regardless of increasing costs for universities, forcing schools to re-label increase in costs as fees. Additionally, “fee” is recognized as being more palatable than tuition increase, even when universities have the option to call a spade a spade.

Fees aren’t going away, but universities can aim to be more transparent about what they cost and what students get for paying them.

Has your school sent you a bill for surprising fees? Share your story in the comments below.



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