The Ten-Step Guide to College Financial Aid By Zachary Freeman

Welcome Back To The Real World

After a summer-long hiatus, I’ve returned, and with an unfortunate reminder: its time for college.  Americans buy hundreds of dollars of merchandise for dorms and apartments, buy school supplies and pay tuition bills, not to mention all the other fees that must be forked out simply to exist on a college campus.  Let’s explore a few examples of the robbery that we’ve so blindly come to accept.

The Wellness Fee – This fee, common on college campuses across the nation, is vague and ambiguous – and that’s intentional.  So, what exactly is a “wellness” fee?  I’ll give you a hint: it’s not health insurance, it’s not medical care, and it’s not free Band-Aids.  While those categories would be admirable, typically, wellness fees are used to provide items such as contraceptives, generally through organizations that can more discreetly distribute them, such as the Student Government Association and/or Student Health Center.  I’m not saying that every school does this, but it’s certainly worth a little investigation for those parents who would prefer that their hard-earned tuition payment be used for treadmills and spin classes rather than condoms and birth control pills.

The Green Fee – This fee is not for the putt-putt course on campus, folks.  Rather, this common college fee is a great example of the political agenda of many institutions.  While almost every college or university has recycling options available on campus, many schools are now introducing a fee that requires students to contribute money to the recycling effort.  While I appreciate the idea behind it – kind of – this fee has no redeeming education value whatsoever; asking a family to pay an extra $50 per semester to have the ability to recycle old homework is border-line unethical, especially when tuition rates are increasing by an average of ten percent per year.

The Parking Fee:  While many high schools across the country charge $10-20 per school year to park on campus, colleges are taking it to the next level.  Average costs for a parking permit range from $50 to $200 per semester at any college or university.  As if five-to-six digit tuition prices aren’t enough, students are being required to pay an additional $400 per year simply to park their car while they attend class, if they can even find a spot.

Textbooks:  Face it: textbooks now fall under the category of “fee”.  In past years, it has been easy for students to shop for their textbooks outside of the university bookstore system.  Shopping outside of the school bookstore saved me about $1,000 in my first year alone.  However, colleges are starting to see this gap in the revenue stream and have begun a process that monopolizes the industry and makes outside shopping nearly impossible.  Colleges are working with textbook manufacturers to create “custom editions” that are supposedly “tailored” to fit the needs of a specific university.  What this really means is that they change a few words around to make a legal difference between the custom edition and the standard edition.  This gives universities the incentive to use the custom editions because they, in turn, make a share of the profits of the custom edition.  This means that when students finish their class for the semester, they can’t sell their books to anyone at another college or even the same college.  The editions of textbooks are updated so often that even new, unopened textbooks are becoming outdated.  Yet it is a requirement to purchase these books, which you can only get from one source.  Sound a bit like a monopoly?

If I may be so bold, America, we need to ask more questions and hold institutions accountable.  If you feel compelled, investigate.  If you don’t believe me, research.  Call the college or university and see exactly how they spend their (your) money.  I guarantee you that it’s not as responsibly as we’d like to think.  If we desire our finances and education to improve, we need to pay more attention to the educational vacuum being shoved into our pockets.

Article Written by Zachary Freeman, Author of Free Money Please!: The Ten-Step Guide to College Financial Aid.  He can be reached at


2 responses

  1. Mercy

    I agree that some college fees are vague and probably inflated or entirely unnecessary. However, as for custom textbooks, this is not a college choice but a publishing company promotion. In fact, directors of college bookstores often try to dissuade professors from choosing these textbooks. College is expensive and it seems to be growing increasingly costly, but it’s not a sinister plot on the part of college admins to pick the pockets of students and their parents–it is systemic and has a great deal to do with the market and a somewhat misguided cultural perception that all high school graduates need to at least acquire a bachelor’s degree in order to be successful.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:03 am

    • Zachary Freeman


      Thank you for your thoughts. It is important that students not turn a blind eye to the fees that they are required to pay and, unless they are brought to light, they may never even know. While I understand your assessment of the university custom edition textbook, I must remind you that publishers cannot publish a university custom edition without a commission and consent from the university. You’re correct when you say that custom editions are a publishing company promotion, however, if you think that the colleges are somehow the good guy and they don’t heavily promote their own custom edition, you’re wrong. There is most likely also a discrepancy between the greedy motives of a college and the ethical motives of a bookstore manager who doesn’t want to break the financial back of students. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that there are plenty of professors that do not use custom editions out of concern for their students’ finances as well.

      I’d also like to thank you for the final, and perhaps most important point that you made: there is a misguided cultural perception about success and college. While the point is unrelated to this article, it’s extremely relevant to current events, and I’m glad that you brought it up. There is an enormous gap in the job market, caused by an influx of overqualified employees that feel entitled to a job. It’s time that we wake up and realize that college isn’t our best friend, they aren’t here to take care of us, and they, along with the federal government (by way of their reckless collegiate funding practices) are to blame for the high costs of college education.

      Occupy College,

      November 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

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