College fee frenzy... what are students being charged for and how much it costs

Posted at 2:55 PM, Mar 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-23 18:33:36-04

We all know college is costly ---with average tuition and fees at a four-year private institution now up to just over 33-thousand.

Tuition and fees. We often hear the words lumped together, but have you ever stopped to dissect what those fees are all about?

How much do they cost? What are they for? And just where is the money going?

Dana Zucker is asking those questions. She has twins going to different universities.

She doesn’t mind footing the bill to help her kids live their dreams through education. “We always knew college was going to be expensive,”  the Nebraska mom, blogger and home cook explains.

But when both her son and daughter picked schools, she concentrated on tuition, room and board. She didn’t really pay much attention to the added lines that said “fees.” When she did, “We were shocked.”

Included on her son’s bill, required fees of more than $1,600. And just over $900 in fees on her daughter’s.

“Often, a university will have a big fee, called a comprehensive fee that really represents eight or ten smaller fees all rolled in into one,” explains Richard Vedder, Ph.D. He runs The Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

He says while some schools lump fees together, other schools itemize. There are numerous  things with names like:  “Spirit Fee”, “Incidental Fee, Freshman Fee, “Fuel Recovery Fee” and the list goes on.

Dr. Vedder says there’s a reason fees are becoming more common at private and public schools. “Universities are doing more and more things that cost money. Students are having fancier recreational facilities, for example.:

But, Dr. Vedder also thinks the fees are a way for universities to gain more money without raising tuition.

Dana says, no matter what, she must pay the total bill, so she just wants transparency.

When it comes to her son’s bill, ““I really don't know what that $1500-$1600 goes to, to be honest.”

So, we decided to ask. The institution got back to us, stating that, “Our student fees aggregate student charges for health services, technology services, and for student activities. “

Dr. Vedder urges parents to be proactive with all schools. “Parents can be a little more aggressive than they are in asking admission officers and financial aid officers, 'Why am I paying this fee?'”

While most fees remain mandatory, you can often opt out of the health insurance fee, as Dana happily found out about her daughter’s university while we were with her. ““I just saved myself some money today!”

For more information on college affordability, check out The Center for College Affordability and Productivity.