Nickel and Dimed: Many of the costs of college hit you where you least expect it

Aug 20, 2014 at 1:00 am

For the pennywise student, the institution of higher education can seem like a shameless extortion racket. Really the only thing that separates academia from some crime syndicate is that a shark will at least shake your hand and smile before he mercifully whacks you, and after that all debts are settled. Sometimes it can feel like universities hide behind their inspirational slogans and the promise of a better future while nickel and diming you until you eventually whack yourself — and even then you're stuck with the bill.

Throwing the book at you We students have been known to end up selling a kidney for a softcover, shrink-wrapped handbook — only to have the professor never reference it once during the semester. Sometimes you'll buy the book then have to pay an extra fee for a super-secret access code to complete online homework assignments. Oh, and let's not forget everyone's favorite: the "my friend wrote this book so I'm using it in my class" professor plug.

The College Board estimated that full-time undergraduate students in the United States would spend an average of $1,200 on textbooks for 2013-14. Wayne State University wasn't too far off on their 2014-15 Cost of Attendance table, estimating the undergraduate textbook budget at $1,196.

The Internet, however, has proven a helpful alternative to the extortion that goes on at the university bookstore, as you can find most if not all the books you need on general retail sites such as Amazon for less than the bookstore. In my personal experience, I got all the books I needed for my last semester for $45 total from those saints at Amazon.

If push comes to shove, make a friend in class and share a book; it's doable. Or if a friend had the class before you, chances are they couldn't sell their book back, so borrow it if they haven't already lit it on fire to stay warm because they can't afford utilities now.

The 'F' word Ah, fees. Because you already can barely afford tuition, what have you got to lose? It adds up.

Wayne State University students are all charged a "Student Service Fee," which is primarily put toward the maintenance and improvement of student technology resources.

Eastern Michigan University students have to pay a "student union fee," which is a mandatory fee charged per credit hour to service the debt from the new EMU Student Center. Regardless if you wanted it or not, they built it, and you're going to pay for it.

U-M Ann Arbor students who register then subsequently withdraw after the start of classes are charged a $130 "disenrollment fee." You need to reimburse the university for the button push it took to register you for those classes, you ungrateful bastard.

Park it here There's that awkward moment when parking your car costs you about the amount you spend on the gas to drive it. Wayne State University students have what's called a "OneCard." It operates as both a student ID and a refillable debit card for use at campus facilities, area businesses, and for swiping yourself in and out of campus parking structures and lots. With the OneCard, parking is $3.50 for the whole day. Let's say you're on campus five days, that's $17.50 a week, and $70 a month in parking. It's a quickly gathering snowball of "ouch" to your bank account either way.

Eastern Michigan University students are required to purchase a $100 parking pass each semester, at $300 per year. A lot of colleges, like U- M Ann Arbor, encourage students to not even use a car at all, since they've got super cool dorms you can live in for an estimated $10,000. How convenient!

Got tips for not getting nickeled and dimed by school? Email them to [email protected].