Beware of Hidden College Fees

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When Georgia resident Alison Ilg received her daughter Alyssa’s first college tuition bill from Georgia Southern University, she didn’t expect what she saw. Among the fees tacked onto her bill was a $100 student activity fee, a $100 technology fee and an $88 health fee, which allowed her daughter to visit the on-campus medical center.

“I did not expect to pay all of these when I sent my freshman daughter off to college a month ago,” Ilg says.  

Unfortunately, Ilg isn’t the only parent paying for such fees. In fact, colleges are getting as creative as airlines at disguising their additional costs.  

“A lot of public colleges tend to have an increase in cost covered through additional fees because their ability to raise tuition is restricted,” says Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid.org and a columnist for MainStreet. He explains that, oftentimes, only state legislators can raise what is actually classified as tuition.

Private colleges, on the other hand, may have tuition locks in place. To circumvent this issue or avoid raising the baseline tuition, colleges institute fees instead, which can cover their extra expenses.

“The fees are specific to a particular service and they cover the cost of that service,” Kantrowitz says. This is why the charges, more often than not, are mandatory.  

“You can’t get out of paying them,” Kantrowitz says. As such, students and parents need to look at the total cost of tuition and fees together before deciding whether or not a school’s financial requirements fit their budget. Incidentally, both the College Board and the Department of Education already do this when analyzing a school’s total price. Many schools also calculate fees for students on their  websites.

Kantrowitz points out that once you know how much you are paying bill-to-bill in fees, it’s not likely to increase dramatically. Students may pay one or two more fees than upper classmen, such as a fee to fund their orientation activities, and seniors may have charges associated with graduation. However, the specific cost of a universal fee tends to be the same year to year. For example, freshmen don’t typically pay a higher Student Activity fee than seniors.

The other good news is that some fees may actually end up being worth it. Ilg, for example, doesn’t mind paying the $142 Recreation Activity Center fee, which allows her daughter to use Georgia Southern University’s state-of-the-art recreational center.

“It's one of the largest in the southeast, so it's well worth the money,” Ilg says.

To help incoming students understand what exactly they are paying for, MainStreet took a look of some college fees that commonly appear on tuition bill:

Technology fee: At the University of Georgia, students are charged a $108 tech fee each semester that funds computing equipment in the Student Learning Center, makes improvements to the university’s wireless network and provides Internet support to students living on campus. The fees are also used to address the specific technology needs of the university’s five campuses.

Student Activities Fee: Every semester at Southern New Hampshire University, students pay a $165 student activities fee to the Student Government Association. The money is used to support clubs, organizations, publications, the yearbook, social life, campus improvements and other SGA activities.

Transit Fee: Students at Washington State University pay a $15 transit fee each semester that funds transportation in Pullman, Wash., where the college is located. The fee also supports an on-campus shuttle system. Transit fees traditionally bolster both local and on-campus transportation initiatives.

Library Fee: At Georgia State University, students pay a $35 per semester library fee that allows for continual improvements to be made to the campus library. Some improvements include expansion of group study rooms, more workspace, advanced technology, an enhanced special collections section and areas to encourage collaborative learning and instruction.

Athletic Fee: Athletic fees, generally, support a school’s sports programs. The University of Hawaii at Manoa, for example, recently instituted a $50 per semester athletic fee that funds scholarships for student athletes. The funding is intended to support their travel, athletic supplies and other expenses. A portion of the revenue is also set aside to fund general student activities.

Laboratory Fee: Oftentimes, students taking a science course that utilizes a school’s lab facilities will have to pay extra for it. Boston University, for example, charges part-time students taking certain computer or science courses a fee that varies depending on the course’s laboratory use in conjunction with coursework.  The fee can cost as much as $200 per class.

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Laura Moran.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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