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Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 10/25/2010

College fees: Not just for books and athletics

By Valerie Strauss

Fees aren’t just for books, student clubs and athletics anymore. Schools keep coming up with different ways to squeeze money out of their students.

My colleague Daniel de Vise wrote in this Washington Post story about the large and sometimes hidden cost of athletic fees in Virginia and Maryland.

But anybody paying for a child to go to college should know about other fees that can each cost hundreds of dollars: technology, late library books, parking (some schools hold up diplomas until fines are paid), registration, late registration, dropping a class, dropping a class too late, freshman orientation, special equipment (camera for a photography class, for example).

You can pay $75 to replace a dorm room key at Johns Hopkins University, or up to $30 at different schools to replace a lost student identification card.

Fees have been going up everywhere across the country. A state audit in Colorado, for example, found that fees at state colleges and universities jumped 142 percent from 2006 to 2010, though tuition increased 69 percent.

The audit also discovered that schools often failed to completely explain to families why fees were being charged, an omission not specific to Colorado.

Does your child want to study abroad? First you have to pay a fee. The University of Illinois charges a $200 advance fee plus a possible $300 Second Advance Fee, and then, if tuition isn’t paid on time, there’s a late fee of 1.5 percent added each month to any unpaid balance until paid in full.

Want to get a master's or a doctorate? When you write your thesis, make sure the margins are exactly as the rules specify. Even an eighth of an inch off could cost a late fee. Or, at the extreme, you may have to stay -- and pay for -- another semester to do it again.

Its not just American students who complain about fees. In Vietnam, students of many public universities pay fees for enrollment, assessment, library use, military training uniforms, health care and health insurance.

And one university requires each new student to pay a fee for a new pair of shoes. Even if they don't need them.


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 25, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  College Costs  | Tags:  college costs, college fees, freshman orientation, health center, health insurance, late fees, late registration, library fees, parking fees, registration fees  
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I had one child who went to the University of Mary Washington. His semester bills were segmented into a line item for tuition and a line item for school fees that was about 1/2 the amount of tuition, as well as line items for housing, food, and student activities. I think this division is a result of state mandates for college funding. I never looked into where that "fee" money went.
John Dickert
Mount Vernon Farms

Posted by: 12191946 | October 25, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

My acccounting class's textbook includes a subscription to the publisher's interactive Web site. Theoretically, students can access this to get immediate feedback on practice problems and study help. We are also required to do graded homework problems for each chapter: "practice" problems that can be done several times but must be done with a certain score before the "real" graded problem can be attempted. In reality, you need a certain speed connection and a certain version of Flash to access the site, so some of us work the practice problems on paper and then go to the computer lab. The subscription covers both courses in the sequence and expires in a year; one of my classmates had to drop the class last fall and is taking it again this year. She kept her book, but she had to pay another fee for the Web site subscription. And no one in the class thinks the site is particularly helpful.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 25, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

While I find these fees painful, I think they suggest a larger issue. What does it actually cost for a student to go to college? Not what are the totals for tuition, fees, and board, but what is the operating cost of the school divided by the number of students. Where is that money going.

I say this because it isn't going to the faculty and staff. At least not at most of our state schools in Virginia. My husband has a PhD from Johns Hopkins University and, even with an extra $10,000 a year because he is chair of his department, he makes less money than I do. I teach first grade. I make a reasonable living, but he does not.

Posted by: Jenny04 | October 25, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

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