image by flickr user FutUndBeidl (cc license)

The Dispatch has reported that college tuitions at eleven of the thirteen public universities in Ohio will increase this fall. The increases are capped at the larger of 2% of tuition or $188. However, other uncapped increases are coming, too… in the form of new and increased fees.

Fee increases and the creation of new fees have become increasingly common in the past few years. A part of this is the increase in public university reliance on tuition as a larger share of their budgets after reduced state funding over the past thirty years (a trend that increased sharply during the recession). Universities are looking for ways to keep their funding level or increase their funding as their expenses, for better or worse, continue to rise.

These fees come in all shapes and sizes. For example, the Dispatch notes that “campus housing fees are rising past the national inflation rate –– 2.1 percent –– at Ohio State, Ohio University and the University of Toledo. An extra fee charged to out-of-state students at OSU will increase by 5 percent. Several schools have upped fees for certain programs and classes.” So, while tuition may be relatively flat in their increases, students and families may need to plan for quicker increases in other college spending when planning their budgets. A failure to account for possible increases in fees when crafting a family college budget could lead to some annoying financial surprises each summer.

So, how can a family cope with these increases? First, as mentioned above, build in possible increases in costs for each year of college budgeting. If attending a public school, find out the maximum allowable tuition increase that colleges can legally make each year and build that into each year’s budget. Furthermore, add between 2% & 5% for each fee type. In addition, add a couple hundred dollars to your student’s annual budget for possible surprise new fees. This happens more often than one might think; Arizona State University, for example, sprung a mandatory new $150/year athletic fee on its students without even a student vote.

The other way students and families can cope with rising fees is to examine carefully. In many cases, colleges will have a couple of mandatory fees while a handful of other fees are refundable. It’s the refundable fees that bear a second look. For example, is your student a member of a private gym and not at all interested in the campus rec center? Perhaps your student’s school allows for students to opt-out of campus rec center fees. Or, if your student has good health insurance and there’s plenty of in-network healthcare options near the campus. In such a case, perhaps opting-out of the student health fee (provided your family feels it’s not offering something particularly useful to your student’s wellbeing) can save your family a few needed dollars. Maybe your student feels the student activity fee or student media fee don’t return them anything real for their college dollar. If so, perhaps these can be targets for fee opt-outs (provided they are not mandatory fees).

Again, which fees you opt-out of should be a careful and considered decision: the trade-offs really do matter. However, for families in a budget crunch, this is an area worth a few minutes of investifation. Perhaps, while college costs continue to rise, 15 minutes of studying your semester bill and fees could save you a considerable amount of campus cash.