SEATTLE – Talk about rising college costs has centered on double-digit tuition increases, but tuition is only one part of the sticker shock awaiting students at Washington’s four-year colleges and universities.
Along with the typical fees for dorm rooms, books and meals, students and parents can expect an array of other mandatory fees included in their total college bill.
The fee to access wireless Internet and computers: $75 to $123. The fee to work out in the campus gym or use other recreational facilities: $200 to $300. Your college is renovating its stadium or dormitories? Your share: $50 to $250.
Those are just the mandatory fees. Students can voluntarily pay for other fees, such as $5 to support a college’s environmental efforts or $10 to see how close you are to graduating.
“Students do feel nickeled and dimed a lot of the time,” said Carly Ray, a Washington State University senior from Puyallup who is mostly paying her current college expenses with student loans and summer jobs.
All told, the total cost of attending the University of Washington and Washington State University as an in-state undergraduate can total about $25,000 year.
Tuition – which has increased as much as 20 percent during each of the past three years – accounts for roughly half of that amount. The rest includes books, transportation, living expenses and other student needs.
At Washington’s four other colleges and universities, the estimated cost of attendance is about $21,000.
Students have little control over the big ticket items like tuition or dorm fees, Ray said, but they do have control over smaller fees.
“I feel like students are angry, angry that they’re paying all these fees, and having to take out more loans and more loans,” she said, though she acknowledged that the costs remind her of the value of her education.
Sarah Hall, UW’s director of planning and state operations, said the money students pay represents only part of what it really costs to provide a college education.
“People think a lot about the cost of college going up. But the price to the family, which is often called the cost of attendance, is different from the cost of providing education,” Hall said, pointing out that donations, federal dollars and state money make up the rest of the actual cost of educating students.
Some of the biggest cost increases at Washington universities for 2012-13 involve choices students can make, including where they live and with how many roommates.
At UW, the cheapest housing option is to bunk with two other roommates in one of the older dorms, which runs about $4,260 a year. Living solo in a studio apartment in the university’s newer buildings can run more than twice that amount, at $9,600.
Single rooms at WSU can cost more than $8,000 in some dorms, while the least expensive double room in an older dorm runs $5,246 a year.
Mandatory student fees make up another big chunk of the college bill, with the fees varying widely from one school to another. They all cover a different mix of fees and some of the differences can be tied to how each college defines budget items. A fee could be folded into tuition at one school while itemized separately at another.
Central Washington University has the highest total mandatory fees at more than $1,600, according to state higher education officials. WSU is next at more than $1,400 a year, followed closely by Western at about $1,300 a year.
UW students will see the biggest increase in fees this year, from $828 to $1,080. It’s happening because students adopted a new fee to support dorm improvements, Hall said.
One student, however, didn’t characterize budget decisions in quite the same way.
Lisa Tran, a UW junior from Tacoma, said university staff crunch the numbers and then hold a meeting to explain to student leaders how they came up with next year’s budget. If students have a major objection, they go back and make changes, the bio-chemistry major said.
Tran said she didn’t have an issue with the new $262 facilities renovation fee to help the university renovate or rebuild every dorm on campus over the next decade. Most students probably will never get to use the new dorms.
At WSU, students will see dorm fees go up 4.1 percent, despite efforts by students to keep it lower.
“That’s why people are moving out,” Ray speculated. Living in an apartment or house is cheaper, but not as convenient and may force you to have a car and pay for on campus parking, which ranges from a few hundred dollars a year to about a thousand dollars for a space close to the heart of campus.