The cost of education is increasing, and the use of mandatory fees to offset costs is increasingly becoming more prevalent. Mandatory fees in higher education are not a new occurrence and have been associated with higher education institutions since their inception. However, the use and number of mandatory fees have grown, especially within the last decade, to include more fees that support core initiatives that were once covered by higher education institutions. Despite the vast amount of research concerning costs associated with attendance at higher education institutions, there is less research on how undergraduate students understand these costs, and how understanding of educational expenses may influence students’ behavior. Moreover, there is a dearth of research that explores students' engagement in services and programs supported by mandatory fees at higher education institutions.
This investigation fills the gaps, as it studies undergraduate students’ understandings of and attitudes toward mandatory fees while addressing their engagement in fee-supported services and programs. The data collection process utilizes a survey given to undergraduate students at a large research institution in the southwest United States. The survey uses multiple formats (i.e., Likert-scale, open-ended questions, multiple choice), to measure students’ understandings of costs and information about mandatory fees, frequency of use of services, and students’ prior knowledge about higher education institutions before enrollment.
Students’ perceptions of costs differ by individual and family, and the costs associated with fees can be a surprise for many students entering institutions of higher education. While fees are utilized to help retain and graduate all students, increasing fees change the total price for students. There are relatively few studies that measure the extent to which students engage in services or programs funded by the mandatory fees. While price is at the forefront for many federal and state policymakers, the need to make college more affordable for everyone without losing quality services and programs, must be addressed.