Simplify the cost of attendance: combine or eliminate fees

In order to simplify financial planning for college and improve customer service, Western Michigan University could either stop charging fees or include the costs of services that were covered by fees with the flat rate tuition. Additional services (e.g. sports packages, yearbooks, regalia, etc.) that are truly ‘optional’ could be offered at a reasonable fee and chosen at the discretion of each individual student.

Could this really work?

Upon initial investigation, most colleges appear to charge both tuition and fees. However, The University of Texas at Austin has demonstrated that a flat-rate plan can further simplify the costs of attendance for students and their families. The University of Texas at Austin implemented a flat-rate tuition plan that eliminated individual fees in 2006 (University of Texas at Austin, 2006).

Mandatory, college and course fees are no longer being charged separately. The costs for these services, which previously were funded by fees, are included in the flat rate tuition amount.

Being innovative and promoting student success is not always about doing the same thing everyone else is. In order to truly support students, sometimes doing something different (e.g. what University of Texas at Austin chose to do about tuition and fees) enables us to break old habits and recognize new opportunities for success.

Background information about fees

Fees are charges for services, resources, and activities not directly associated with academic courses (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Many colleges also charge a nonrefundable application fee — in some cases a fee waiver is offered to applicants who are from low-income families (CollegeBoard, 2007). Often, colleges charge so many fees that special communication pieces are designed to assist students in understanding the total costs of attendance (Columbus State Community College, 2007; Georgian College, 2007; University of Minnesota, 2007). At some colleges, if a student does not pay the required fees they are asked to withdraw from their academic program, have their courses dropped, or are charged a re-admission fee in order to continue studies (Columbus State Community College, 2007; NorQuest College, 2007).

Fees charged at Western Michigan University

A freshman will be charged a minimum of $855 in fees during their first semester of attendance at Western Michigan University. A student earning minimum wage would have to work over 120 hours to pay for these fees. In subsequent semesters, students will pay a minimum of $345 in fees and work over 48 hours to cover the expense.

Schedule of fees

$35 application fee (one-time)
$300 records initiation fee (one-time)
$175 orientation fee (one-time)
$333 enrollment fee
$12 student assessment fee
$20 technology course fee (charged if a student takes online courses run through ATIS)
$45 graduation fee

Additional fees may be charged by individual academic departments (e.g. lab fees, aviation flight fees).

Fee explanations

Application fee – At the time of writing this post, an official explanation of this fee (other than the total charge and name of the fee) could not be located on the Undergraduate Admissions page. Presumably the fee covers the associated costs with processing the application.

Records initiation fee

This fee helps subsidize the establishment of each student’s official academic record at the University, and supports related activities such as integrated web course registration, online grade and program reviews, automated degree audit, student accounts receivables, and the provision of an individual electronic portfolio that reflects the learning, educational growth, and personal accomplishments for each student.

Orientation fee

The goals of the Western Michigan University orientation program are divided into four categories:

Institutional Understanding

  • To assist students in understanding the purpose of higher education
  • To assist students in determining their purpose in attending WMU
  • To assist students in developing positive relationships with faculty, staff, peers, and other individuals in the community
  • To help students understand the institution’s expectation of them
  • To provide an atmosphere and information to enable students to make appropriate choices
  • To provide and encourage an atmosphere conducive to a multicultural campus

Academic Understanding

  • To provide information concerning academic policies, procedures and requirements
  • To explain the process for class scheduling and registration and provide trained supportive assistance
  • To provide academic advising to inform students of curriculum requirements and expectations
  • To facilitate the registration of classes in order to complete the enrollment process

Student and Parent Transition

  • To develop a familiarity with the physical surroundings
  • To create an atmosphere that minimizes anxiety, promotes positive attitudes, and stimulates an excitement for learning
  • To provide information on personal safety and security
  • To provide opportunities to discuss expectations and perceptions of the campus with current students, faculty, and staff
  • To encourage students to participate in social activities in order to develop peer and professional contacts

Services and Opportunities

  • To provide information about and opportunities for self-assessment
  • To provide information and exposure to available student support services
  • To provide a meaningful residence hall experience

Enrollment fee

The Enrollment Fee is a single per capita assessment which covers: Health Center Operations Fee; Technology Fee, covering information systems services for students; Facility Fee, for auxiliary building debt requirements; Recreation Fee, for recreation building debt service and building operations; and Infrastructure Fee, for deferred maintenance projects.

Technology course fee – At the time of writing this post, an official explanation of this fee (other than the total charge and name of the fee) could not be located on the Registrar’s tuition page, nor on the ATIS tuition page.

Graduation fee – At the time of writing this post, an official explanation of this fee could not be located. Presumably charged for all details involved with auditing a student’s academic transcript for verification of fulfillment of graduation requirements.

How do students feel about fees?

Clearly, if a student felt that the majority of the services covered by the enrollment fee (e.g. health center, recreation fee, facilities, etc.) were services they never used — the student might feel the fee was unfair. Students might also be of the opinion that the price paid for tuition should cover all services provided by the University.

In addition, the complexity of the fee structures and costs of attendance at WMU can make it very confusing for prospective students and their families to fully understand and plan for attendance at our institution.

In 2005, when WMU first instituted a flat-rate tuition plan, the ‘Flat Rate Policy Letter’ stated that “many of you [students] told us they [the fees] were confusing and unfair, and we have responded to your concerns” (Western Michigan University, 2005). With the flat-rate tuition plan, costs of some fees were reduced. However, as we can see, that two years later, from the schedule of fees listed in this post — there are still many expensive fees that students must pay for.


Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if we either eliminated fees or charged one flat-rate that included tuition and fees?

We wouldn’t need complex systems and accounting to track all the individual fees. Staff resources could be allocated towards promoting student success rather than assessing and auditing fees. Students and their families would have a simple and easy way to understand the costs of attendance.


CollegeBoard. (2007). College Application Requirements. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Columbus State Community College. (2007). Fee information. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Georgian College. (2007). Georgian College Fees – How much will it cost? Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

NorQuest College. (2007). Tuition and Fees. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

University of Minnesota. (2007). Tuition and Fees – College of Education and Human Development. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

University of Texas at Austin. (2006). Tuition Dollars & Sense. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

U.S. Department of Education. Preparing Your Child for College — Important Terms. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from

Western Michigan University. (2005). WMU Flat Rate Policy. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from


  1. Brian Carnell September 19, 2007
  2. Michael Whang September 22, 2007

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