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"Undergraduate Entering Fee"? How College Students Are Paying Ridiculous, Hidden Student Fees

Some colleges are increasingly hiding rising costs under "fees" in fear of raising tuition.

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At Auburn University in Alabama, mandatory fees have been steadily increasing for several years. They now make up 16 percent of an in-state student’s combined tuition and fee costs. Part of this increase stems from self-imposed fees that students voted for because they wanted a new recreation center, said Mike Reynolds, executive director of student financial services.

But a major component of the increase is Auburn’s new $400 “proration fee,” also introduced in 2011 to make up for a loss of state support. Reynolds said the charge was labeled a fee because it was intended to be temporary.

“That fee could go away. Whether that will happen, I don’t know,” Reynolds said.

Critics suggest that some schools likely keep their fee costs fuzzy as a way of seeming more financially attractive to prospective students. But if students are still paying for the additional costs in the end, any marginal marketing benefit on the front end may engender bad feelings after the bill arrives.

“It is hard not to feel a little misled,” said one parent of a student at UMass Amherst who did not want to be quoted by name. “Yes, they are on the web somewhere, but they are not always easy to find. Unless you dig out the list and closely analyze it, you don’t realize there are all these extra expenses. Schools don’t go out of their way to publicize it.”

School spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said in an email that the school makes an effort to be clear about total costs.

“In publications and [on] our website, extensive details about the tuition, fees and the estimated overall cost of attendance are shared with students in advance,” Blaguszeqski said. “Our Admissions and Financial Aid staff believe prospective students are well informed about cost, and the info is publicly posted.”

 

Marian Wang is a reporter for ProPublica, covering education and college debt. She has been with ProPublica since 2010, first blogging about a variety of accountability issues.