The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Colleges Brazenly Gouging Students with Hidden Fees

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The dreaded college tuition bill is only the most obvious cause of parental headaches. Miscellaneous items tucked into the fine print are also draining their pockets, like a “globalization fee,” a “parking/pedestrian fee,” and a “student success fee.” It’s a cunning sleight of hand, as Propublica reports:

“It’s a way for colleges to increase the cost that may not be as apparent to as many students,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and the founder of finaid.org and fastweb.org. “You focus in on tuition and when you get the bursar’s bill, there are lots of little lines for all these fees, but because each is a relatively small amount, you may not notice it as much. You focus in on the big figure but not on these little figures that collectively add up to a lot.”

To best appreciate how confusing — even upside-down — the world of college costs can get, consider this: At state schools in Massachusetts, where the state board of higher education has held tuition flat for more than a decade, “mandatory fees” wind up far outstripping the price of tuition. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the flagship of the UMass system, mandatory fees are more than six times the cost of in-state tuition.

Given that individual fees can range anywhere from $162 to $750 a year or more, we’re not talking about chump change here.

On the bright side, this accounting gimmick is so brazen that colleges won’t be able to get away with it much longer. As these “fees” comprise a more significant share of college costs, parents are going to scrutinize their bills and start asking questions about where their money is going. They won’t like what they find. For many who have already given a king’s ransom to these schools, flimsy justifications for the “student success fee” won’t be very convincing.

[Image courtesy of shutterstock.com]

Published on April 3, 2013 4:15 pm