Hidden costs of college: Extra fees, education expenses add up

Students pay extra for parking, technology

By Donovan Myrie - Investigative/Special Projects Producer, Julie Broughton - Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - If you’re a student heading off for college, or a parent getting ready to write that check, listen up: Be prepared for a little sticker shock if you haven’t taken all expenses into consideration.

Tuition, room, board and books are the standards for school, but a lot of students and parents alike aren’t familiar with fees.

According to Heather Smith, assistant director for media relations at the University of Central Florida, a fee along with student tuition is simply “the cost for taking classes.” 

“UCF has not increased tuition or fees for three years, and this fall will be the start of the fourth year with no increase,” Smith told News 6. 

The university, one of the largest in the U.S., has in fact some of the lowest combined tuition and fees in the country, and those fees aren’t arbitrarily set. 

“The resident undergraduate tuition rate of $105.07 is set by Florida Statute 1009.24 and is applicable to all state universities,” Smith said. “Florida statute and Board of Governors regulations dictate which types of fees universities can charge as well as how much those fees can be.”  

Some schools have fees rolled into tuition, others break them out separately. Think of it like taking a trip on a commercial jetliner: There are fees associated with your ticket  -- such as a segment fee, a Sept. 11 security fee and even a passenger facility fee --  that some airlines and travel websites show as a total cost and others as “pre-fee” pricing. 

Colleges and universities do the same. They can break out the fees for transparency or they can roll everything into a final tuition-per-year price. And don’t forget the add-ons. For an airline, they can include a second bag or an exit row. For a university, it can be a lab class or special materials.

“The state provides us guidance on what we can charge for in fees as well as guidance on rates themselves,” said Linda Beaty, assistant director of public relations at Valencia College. “We don’t lump the tuition and fees all together and simply call it tuition because the money raised from the different fees must be spent or allocated for that purpose stated by the fee.” 

As an example, Beaty broke down Valencia’s student fees and what the money for each student fee goes toward. Tuition at $82.66 per credit hour is used for the general operating costs of the college. 

Like tuition, all fees are per credit hour:

  • Student Financial Aid Fee ($3.83): Used for supporting those who have financial need.  Seventy-five percent of the funds raised by this fee must be targeted to those in financial need and the remainder is focused on specifics the college/community needs (e.g. programmatic needs).
  •  Student Activity Fee ($7.07): Provides for direct student funding needs such as mentors, tutors, etc. Beaty added that most schools use this money to also support athletic programs, which Valencia does not have.
  • Capital Improvement Fees ($5.67): Used to fund smaller capital projects not covered under the Public Education Capital Outlay Trust Fund (PECO).
  • Technology Fee ($3.83): Used for purchasing or replacing student technology at the school.

For Valencia, the above fees add up to $20.40 per credit hour. Multiply that by 15 hours a semester and a student is looking at about $306 a semester.

It usually takes eight semesters, or 120 credit hours, to graduate with a bachelor's degree, meaning a student at Valencia will pay about $2,448 in fees over four years.

But like tuition, fees can also differ from school to school. The same four fees cost more at UCF:

  • Student Financial Aid Fee ($5.16)
  •  Student Activity Fee ($11.67)
  • Capital Improvement Fees ($6.76)
  • Technology Fee ($5.16) 

Valencia fees run $20.40 while the same ones at UCF are $28.75, which is $1,000 more over the lifetime of a typical four-year, 120-credit-hour degree. UCF, having a much bigger, more centralized campus, has other fees Valencia does not. Those include:

  • Health Fee ($10.84) 
  • Athletics Fee ($14.32) 
  • Transportation Access Fee ($9.10)  

The grand total for all fees at UCF, not including tuition, is $63.01 per semester hour, or more than $7,500 over four years. And at both Valencia and UCF, there might be even more fees to worry about tied to courses requiring lab equipment, supplies, liability insurance or other costs. UCF also has fees to cover costs like repeating a course or obtaining a student ID.

But are there ways for students to avoid fees?

Right off the bat, if you can avoid paying with a credit card, at UCF you can save 2 percent. Valencia doesn’t charge a credit card convenience fee. 

If you can survive without a car on campus, you can save money on parking. While parking at Valencia’s campuses is free, on UCF’s main campus, student parking runs about $100 a year. Both UCF and Valencia struck deals with LYNX allowing both students and faculty members free bus rides anywhere in Orlando. 

One last tip: UCF online students also get a waiver for some fees because they seldom use on-campus resources. Fees that get waived for online students include the non-resident fee, activity and service fee, transportation fee, health fee, athletics fee and technology fee.

Online students do, however, have to pay an $18 per credit hour distance learning course fee.

The bottom line is that for college students, fees are a way life. Just make sure to do your homework so your budget can handle the extra costs.

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