Beyond Tuition: Additional Costs of Higher Education

The rising cost of tuition is looming over students who wish to pursue higher education, but often times there are additional costs and fees that don’t always come to mind right away and can potentially make or break a budget.
By Angel McLellan
Features Reporter

Between 1980 and 2014, tuition inflated nearly 260 percent, according to Business Insider. This is much higher than the average 120 percent in all consumer items from this same time span.

Tuition, however, is not the only expense that students need to worry about. There are several additional costs that come with higher education that many do not initially think about when considering when and where is right for them.

Things such as housing, transportation and parking, course fees, computers and meals add up, continuing to increase the steep price tag that comes with continuing one’s education. This is a national issue, and students from all over America have been impacted in various ways.

Dateline Alabama interviewed students at different schools across the country to see how they have been impacted by various additional cost factors.

American University

Erin McGoff, 21, is studying film at American University in Washington D.C.

A typical undergraduate course load at AU is 18 credit hours and totals about $20,000 a semester. McGoff said she has a scholarship that knocks the cost down to roughly $15,000 per semester. Students who are able and choose to take on a heavier load that exceeds the “full-time” requirement, however, can expect an exponential increase in price, an additional $1,000 per credit hour.

“Right now I’m taking 21 credits because I have to graduate on time, so I’m paying around $21,000 per semester,” McGoff said. “This summer I have to take one summer class and it’ll be around $3,000 since it’s three credits. I’ve never had to limit myself and have maintained taking 17-18 credits every semester.”

She said she has run across “a bunch of weird fees” when going over her student bill, such as a technology fee or a gym fee. McGoff said that the university is not transparent with where tuition goes, but that the financial office is typically accommodating if a student wanted to see a breakdown.

Additional Costs at American:

  • McGoff pays $711 per month for a one-bedroom apartment with three girls.
  • An on-campus parking permit costs $500 per semester

    Longwood University

    Zoe Wiener is a senior at Longwood University. She is 21 years old and is majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing.

    The cost for a normal load of classes comes in at about $5,000 per semester during the fall and spring semesters. Wiener said she was unsure how much it would cost to take summer classes because financial aid does not cover the cost, leaving her unable to take them in the first place.

    When it comes to computers, Wiener feels as though her current situation is nowhere near ideal. After an accident left her original laptop broken, she resorted to purchasing a much cheaper HP laptop. The solution was a quick and easy fix, but she said this computer is not adequate to be used for school.

    “The computer I had before was an Acer, and that worked much better for school because it had a significantly higher amount of memory on it,” she said.

    Longwood, like many schools, does offer students the option to rent laptops if necessary. However, Wiener said that the amount of time students are able to rent the device for is not sufficient when attempting to complete assignments.

    “The amount of time they let you rent it for is not enough for it to be used for a regular amount of schoolwork,” she explained. “If you keep it over the allotted time slot, they charge you $50.”

    Auburn University

    Victoria Jackson is a junior at Auburn University. She is 20 years old and is studying communications.

    Parking at Auburn is based on a lottery system. Students are able to put their names in a raffle over the summer for parking passes and rate which parking zones they prefer; names are randomly chosen and every student is assigned different zones that they are able to park in. According to Jackson, many upperclassmen are upset with this system because underclassmen were receiving the better choices—Jackson being one of them.

    “I got my first ranked parking zone, which is basically in the middle of campus and the best zone you can get,” Jackson explained. “With all other parking you’d either have to walk a country mile to actually get to campus or take a bus from your lot.”

    Many students at Auburn feel the raffle system should be based on seniority, but Jackson said that because most freshman and sophomores live on campus and do not commute that it might not make much of a difference. Jackson’s top-ranked parking choice cost her $140, while the less coveted options ring in at $80. After experiencing a foot injury that prevented her from putting weight on it for three months, she said that she does not know what she would have done had she lived off campus because of her inability to drive and the shuttle stop locations being inconvenient.

    “Auburn offers a golf cart service for those who can’t walk to class,” Jackson said. “You just send them your schedule and they have someone drive you to and from all your classes. This was such a blessing, but it’s only offered on campus.”

    Additional Costs at Auburn:

  • Jackson spent $600 per semester to live in one of the oldest buildings on campus.
  • Living in “the Village” with fellow Greeks costs approximately $900 per semester.
  • Fall/spring semester classes total at $358 per three credit hours (one class).
  • Required meal plan for all students: $995 for on-campus students, $300 for off-campus students

    University of Central Florida

    Becca Monson is 23 and a senior at the University of Central Florida. She is majoring in business management.

    In fall 2016, Monson said she took on a course load of four classes and it totaled $2,155, which comes out to be approximately $538 per class. That spring, she took another four classes and one lab that totaled $2,209. Summer classes at UCF are the same price as regular semester classes, even though they last for a shorter duration. Similar to Longwood, financial aid does not cover summer classes at this university and Monson said her student loans also only cover fall and spring semesters.

    “Because of this, I have to plan accordingly when I get the amount in loans that I will be receiving in order to make sure I can afford to pay for them,” she explained. “In terms of having to limit the number of classes due to cost, I have not had this issue, but I know I can only take classes that I know I will have time for and will do well.”

    Additional Costs for UCF:

  • On-campus parking pass for two semesters costs $100, parking is scarce
  • Paid approximately $2,000 for brand new MacBook

    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Katey Van Ort is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is 22 years old and is a double major in history and journalism.

    Most apartment buildings have garages for residents, but the costs for a permit can range anywhere from $130-$250 per month for underground parking. There are also outdoor street parking lots available, but Van Ort said these can range from $50-$200. On-campus parking, she estimated, would probably cost around $1,000 per semester due to campus location. This is the first year she has had her car on campus and said she enjoys it for venturing off campus and going home for breaks, but that her designated area is not always convenient.

    “The capitol is a short 10 minute walk up State Street—meaning that there is a lot of business traffic in Madison,” she explained. “There is not enough space for parking and it is not uncommon to spend all four years at UW without a car and/or never venturing outside of campus or the capitol area.”

    Additional Costs at UW-Madison:

  • With reciprocity from Wisconsin, $13,600 is a normal semester in course fees
  • Inconvenient parking assignment costs $125 per month
  • Typical rent averages around $950 per month in Madison

    The University of Alabama

    Although the student example for this institution was unable to participate, a short overview of The University of Alabama’s stance on some of the previously discussed topics follow as a comparison.

    Parking has become one of the most exponential costs for students who attend The University of Alabama. All students can attest to the lack of space for vehicles to be parked and the shocking costs of permits—with rising prices per permit correlating with convenience and proximity to campus. Students who wish to have a permanently reserved parking spot on campus can expect to pay $400 for the permit. The least expensive permit, perimeter parking, costs $130 and only allows students to park in regions that can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to walk to the main part of campus.

    Computers are a necessity while attending university. Although some schools (such as UA) allow students to rent computers for free using their student ID, as well as have both Mac and PC options available in campus libraries, personal laptop computers are nearly essential in staying organized and completing classwork assignments throughout the day and especially at home. A brand new Apple MacBook Pro is a rarity to find for any less than $1,000 and the cheapest PC with most basic functions could cost as low as $80. With Apple computers coming minus and Microsoft Office programs, which are typically vital to the majority of school assignments, purchasing this suite can cost anywhere from $75 to approximately $150 in addition to the cost of the device.

    Meal plans are required for freshman students at The University of Alabama, but can be reduced to 55 meals a semester for students involved in Greek life. The all-access meal plan option for residential students, which includes as many meals and snacks the student wants all seven days a week, rings in at $1,775 per semester. There is also a commuter meal plan option with the most expensive priced at $675 a semester, including 55 meals and a “VIP membership” to retail meal locations around campus such as Chick-fil-A or Panda Express.

    Overall, the rising costs of tuition continue to discourage students and parents alike when deciding where to pursue a higher education, but this is not the end of the list. Several additional costs, such as housing, transportation and parking, course fees, computers and meals, all come into play and raise the price tag at just about any institution.