Comstock: Hidden fees in college costs go well beyond tuition

Posted February 14, 2014 1:41 pm | Filed under Featured, Local News

In January, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides outlined a plan to enact a three-year tuition freeze, instead asking state lawmakers for an additional $10.1 million. The requested funding equates to roughly a three percent hike in tuition, and is a plan supported by Winthrop’s new president, Dr. Jayne Marie Comstock.

But Comstock, who will be officially inaugurated as the school’s tenth president in March, noted week that too many people look at the cost of a school’s tuition only, instead of what she calls the total ‘cost of attendance.’

“It’s a numbers game that institutions play,” Comstock said. “They keep tuition a little bit lower and raise the other fees. So the cost of attendance is higher than Winthrop.”

Winthrop University, a public institution, has repeatedly been named among the top five most expensive colleges in South Carolina. At $13,430 per year for in-state students, the Rock Hill school outpaces the University of South Carolina-Columbia at $10,816, the College of Charleston at $10,670 and Clemson University at $13,382.

“We want to make sure the cost of attendance is visible to our families,” Comstock said.

That cost of attendance, depending on a student’s living preferences, may include room and board as well as books. At Winthrop university, a double-occupancy room in a traditional campus dorm and an average meal plan costs $7,622 for per year. At the University of South Carolina, comparable room and board expenses average $8,909 according to the school’s websites. At the College of Charleston, room and board expenses could reach as high as $9,856. At Clemson University, estimated room and board costs are $8,142.  All figures exclude the cost of books and tuition.

Through grants, the university’s foundation and federal aid, Winthrop meets approximately 62 percent of its students’ financial needs.

“That’s a very good investment for us,” Comstock said.

Since the mid-1990s, Winthrop’s state appropriations have faced steep cuts, to now below ten percent of the school’s annual budget. In working with the legislature, Comstock wants the funding based on what she calls the impact Winthrop’s programs have on their students.

“We produce outcomes for students that are top-notch,” Comstock said, citing higher retention and graduation rates and the lowest student debt among other public colleges in South Carolina. “We’re very proud of those outcomes.”