Forget about just charging you tuition and fees.
One of the new ways colleges and universities are making money off students is by charging for a host of previously things that didn’t cost money – like academic fieldwork, research projects and internships.
Conducting such research and academic work could costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars. And doing internships at many colleges now requires students to pay their school a fee for this privilege – a big switch from internship requirements of a generation ago.
In short, institutions of higher education are increasingly hunting for ways to generate revenue. As a result, various activities that were previously included as a part of the college experience have now become money-makers for many schools.
Here’s what students and parents need to know to about these hidden college expenses, and how to eliminate them, based on information revealed in College Secrets.
Advice About Internships
Getting an internship while you’re in school is a terrific way to get some valuable work experience, make important contacts, and find out whether you’d truly like to work in a given industry.
Virtually all four-year colleges in America trumpet the value of internships and most boast about the internship opportunities they make available to students either through co-op programs, corporate partnerships or other initiatives schools implement to help students land internships.
When I went to college, it was hard enough to try to get a paid internship. Most of us that did secure internships did so for a small stipend. But mainly we were sold on the benefits.
These days, I’m reluctant to tell students to take on unpaid internships because those are essentially unpaid work hours — hours that could be used to help pay for higher education.
All students don’t need money from work, however, so it’s possible that some undergrads and graduate students too are primarily interested in internships for their own intrinsic value. It’s also worth noting that besides some paid internships, most internship opportunities benefit students with college credit and valuable training.
Trend Toward Students Paying for Internships
Despite the benefits, there is a disturbing trend emerging surrounding college internships: increasingly, instead of getting paid for these experiences, students are being asked to pay for internships.
This is going on in Corporate America and government agencies, with third-party marketing firms that arrange for student internships, and now colleges themselves are also imposing fees for internships on students.
Schools say these internship fees offset, in full or in part, their administrative charges and other expenses tied to connecting students with valuable internship opportunities.
But I question whether students should be called upon to cover each and every possible administrative cost that schools claim to have. I also don’t think colleges and universities should start charging undergraduate students for the school’s role in facilitating internships.
If that’s the case, does that mean certain colleges see themselves as akin to corporate “matchmakers?” Do schools want to now be compensated for serving as middlemen or “matchmakers” between students and companies, government agencies or other entities offering internships? I certainly hope not.
“Internship Fees” on the Rise
Whatever the case, school “internship fees” are creeping up in many places for undergrads.
For instance, at Drew University, students were being charged $350 for internships in the January 2015 term.
Flagler College recently charged a $300 internship fee, and an international internship offered via Virginia Tech had a $400 internship fee, plus a $550 administrative fee and a $200 orientation fee.
Education students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham were charged a $75 internship fee, while students at Christian Brothers University were charged a $100 administrative internship fee.
I’d recommend that students pass on school internships packed with administrative fees and other unnecessary surcharges. Enterprising students can use their own ingenuity to find other, cost-free internships.
At the very least, push back on some of these fees and find out why schools feel the need to impose such expenses.
It will probably be interesting to hear certain schools justify the need for these charges — especially considering that for years most colleges and universities have previously borne these expenses without seeking “offsets” or “reimbursements” from students.
Funding Research Projects
Don’t take it upon yourself, no matter how passionate you are about a topic, to self-fund research projects. There’s almost always a grant you can get, a non-profit that might help, or even a foundation that would be willing to fund your project if you submit a research plan.
But perhaps the best way to manage these expenses is to apply for departmental or campus aid in support of your efforts. If you hunt around, you’ll find that most schools do offer some financial assistance for these initiatives.
At Washington and Lee University, the school awards Johnson Opportunity Grants to rising juniors and seniors as part of The Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity.
Johnson Opportunity Grants provide stipends that support all Johnson Scholars.
The program also gives up to 30 other undergraduates — who are not Johnson Scholars — funding to complete various off-campus research projects and internships during the academic year or the summer.
The grants range from a minimum of $1,000 to a maximum of $3,000. Students on financial aid who do summer projects can also request an additional $1,500 to cover lost wages. For students, funding through The Johnson Program serves of purpose of “aiding them in their particular fields of study, while also exposing them to experiences that enhance their leadership abilities and hone their ethical decision-making,” the school’s website notes.
Here’s the bottom line: If you could benefit — intellectually or personally — from doing internships, academic fieldwork or research projects while in college, then you should pursue those opportunities while earning a degree.
Just realize that unlike in years past, these experiences don’t come free.