Colleges’ Hidden Fees: What You Need to Know

Provided by Columbia College

Colleges have fallen in love with fees. There are extra charges to begin college, such as the orientation and freshman fees. There are charges to finish, such as senior and commencement fees. There are the nickel-and-dime fees, for dropping a class or materials for a lab.

Then there are all the mandatory charges rolled into “tuition and fees” that used to be covered by tuition. Higher education institutions are tacking more and more charges onto students’ bills, raising revenue through fees and causing massive financial headaches for unsuspecting students.

Part of the problem comes from lack of funding. Budget cuts and freezes by state legislatures have made it more difficult for colleges to cover costs. So, many public institutions are using fees to make up the shortfall.

According to a New York Times article, since 1999, mandatory fees have risen 30 percent more than tuition has. The average fee at a four-year public college was almost $2,000 in 2015-16, nearly 20 percent of the tuition and fee average. The article further illustrates the problem. “In 2012, students paid $1,400 in mandatory fees as well as, on average, $700 in supplemental fees. About 8 percent paid more than $12,000 over the course of their college career.”

Families and students are often stunned by the hundreds, if not thousands, in extra dollars they’re required to pay. These supplemental fees are disclosed, but get buried in massive blocks of fine print located in some dusty corner of a college’s website.

It’s become a serious problem. Many, many people budget down to the dime to be able to afford college. Earning a degree is one of the largest financial and personal commitments a person can make. These fees can wreak havoc on family and student finances.

Experts encourage prospective students to petition the financial aid office of their school of choice to get an accurate idea of what it’ll actually cost to attend. Even then, though, some fees may be dependent on what course of study a student will take, which can change midway through college, or what classes they register for, which may include material or lab charges.

There has been pushback against the trend, from students, faculty and college presidents. Columbia College recently announced a new all-inclusive tuition price that covers everything a student needs to attend. Dubbed “truition,” it’s an attempt to add transparency back into the cost of earning a degree.

Other colleges and universities, though, have resisted such moves, mainly because they use fees to supplement slashed budgets. Tuition caps are trotted out each year, but mean nothing when a hidden fee is being used to make up for the loss of funds.

What does it boil down to? Prospective students must do their research before deciding upon a college. Scour the financial aid sections of college websites. Speak with admissions counselors. See if you qualify for special assistance. For example, Edcor members receive a 10 percent tuition discount at Columbia College.

Most importantly, read the fine-print.

Visit CCIS.edu to learn more.