Lessons learned on the first year of college costs

student at collegeIt seems like I was just writing those Senior Year-End checks to the high school -graduation gown, class fees, yearbook ad – and already we are at College Freshman Year-End. The checks are different now and as much as the decisions, paperwork, details, and financing felt like a constant in our lives for a long time, they have now taken a backseat to GPAs and summer employment.

So during the course of the last few months, as paying tuition and walking my son through budgets moved out of the forefront of my mind, there have been a few financial issues that have struck me in my first year as a college parent.

The first one is access. A student account is set up in a most interesting way in this sub-world called present-day college. His account allows his parents to view nothing, verify nothing and pay for anything. Hmmmmm. In other words, we cannot see our son’s grades but we can see the cost and cover it with no problem.

The best moment of “access alienation” came when we were notified of a significant charge for a student service. My husband called to find out what it was, but was told a privacy act would not allow them to disclose the service. I can respect the need for privacy rules and regulations, but for families sharing the expense and decisions of college, I think something along the lines of “he who writes the checks gets the info” might be more appropriate.

The second issue is housing. I’m guessing smaller colleges have better opportunity to meet the residency needs of students. With our son going to a state university, we knew housing after freshman year might be at a premium. We didn’t think much of it, as normally, private rental costs are the same as the amount of room and board and shouldn’t totally throw off a family budget. This year, we found the increased demand for upperclassman housing changed that. With limited dorm space, students skipped class, stood in line for hours and got on a list for potential apartments. It was then revealed that the apartment which rented for $325 monthly per student last leasing year had jumped to $455 monthly per student for the new leasing period. This is a fairly large jump but perfectly smart for privately owned buildings enjoying the law of supply and demand. It does hurt those who have figured costs out in advance as part of their decision of which to college to attend. I believe at some point the university has a responsibility to either reduce the overpopulation of students or provide reasonable housing options.

financial aid award lettersThe final thought is on the Greek system. We fully support our son’s decision to pledge a fraternity. The introductory information was sketchy, and honestly, this is a gap in my son’s responsibility to get the facts. He didn’t face the details until after the holiday break when he returned to campus to find a total of $1200 in fees – initiation, social and annual dues – that he wasn’t ready to cover. Fraternities and sororities are great, but they will have a new and increased price tag, no matter what the marketing material says.

As we plan for year two, some concerns linger about new expenses, dealing with paperwork and ensuring the grades are where they need to be. But we are much clearer on our job as Sophomore parents.


The College Search