Students at Omaha's College of St. Mary will no longer be charged fees on top of their annual tuition bill.
The Catholic college for women has adopted a “one price” tuition policy starting in the fall, said college President Marianne Stevens.
No more laboratory fees. No more activity fees. No more technology fees.
“What we've said is 'no.' There's one price,” Stevens said. “We want to make sure students and their families and parents know right upfront, this is what the cost is.”
Some students — generally those in disciplines requiring laboratory and clinical work — will pay less under the new approach than they would otherwise. Other students will pay more.
Tuition will go up 8 percent next year, to $26,934. But with fees factored into this year's cost — an average of $1,112 per student — next year's tuition reflects a 3.8 percent increase.
Several College of St. Mary students said they like the new approach, though they were shocked at first by the increased tuition amount.
“It jumped over a thousand dollars. I freaked out,” said Allison Rickers, a sophomore education major from Omaha.
Students relaxed after Stevens held several information sessions to explain the new approach.
“Once people figured out it wasn't really going up that much, they thought it was a good idea,” she said.
The College of St. Mary's move comes as colleges and universities across the country try to respond to student concerns about cost and debt.
Some, including public universities in Nebraska and Iowa, are considering tuition freezes.
|The cost of a year of college|
|Sources: Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Nebraska; University of Nebraska-Lincoln; University of Nebraska at Omaha|
The University of Nebraska and Nebraska's state colleges are considering freezing tuition rates for Nebraska residents next year if the Legislature agrees to boost state funding. But the freeze would not apply to student fees, which added about $1,504 to the $6,480 tuition for Nebraska residents attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this year. And those fees are going up next year.
Among Nebraska's community colleges, Mid-Plains Community College, based in North Platte, has decided to freeze its fees and housing rates, along with its tuition for this year. The five other community colleges, including Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, have not followed suit.
Some private colleges in the area also have adopted new pricing strategies. But St. Mary's approach appears to be unique, said Paul Hassen, interim communications director for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C.
“There is a lot of experimentation going on with tuition approaches right now,” he said. “I've done a little bit of research, and I don't believe anybody else among private or public colleges is experimenting with tuition in quite the same way as the College of St. Mary.”
Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, recently adopted a policy to charge financially needy students in its four-state region no more than they would pay to attend their state's flagship university.
“There's no question that more private colleges are taking steps for transparency and trying to meet changes in the dynamics of the marketplace,” said Jim Collins, president of Loras. “I don't think the larger society understands that a college campus today is a lot like the airline industry. If you poll passengers flying on a plane, not everybody pays the same rate, even though we're all flying on the same airplane, in the same seats.
“Students sitting in a college classroom — they're all paying a different rate. It all depends on their state aid, their federal aid, their merit aid and scholarships.”
Stevens said the College of St. Mary's aim is transparency, so students and their families have information to plan how to pay for college.
“We don't want to have hidden costs,” she said.
On average, College of St. Mary students receive about $14,375 in financial aid, reducing their out-of-pocket costs, not including room and board, to about $12,000 per year. But added fees often spring unexpected costs upon families.
“The feedback from our students was that it was confusing,” said Sara Kottich, vice president of financial and administrative services. “A lot of students are paying for their education on their own. The ability to plan for their tuition was important.”
Maryann Forsell, a junior pre-dental major from Norfolk said the policy will save her hundreds of dollars a year in laboratory fees for her science classes.
“That's the biggest advantage I see as a science major,” she said.
Kallie McDermott, a senior occupational therapy major from Doniphan, Neb., said she hopes the new policy makes her college bills more predictable. She and her parents often have been puzzled why her college bills fluctuate so much.
“It happens all the time — and it's just so confusing,” she said.
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