Opinion: Publish course project expenses

Finances are always a sore subject especially among college students. For many of us, our budgets are pretty tight with very little money to spare at the end of each month. (If I had a nickel for every time I said I was “having sleep for dinner” instead of paying for a meal, I probably wouldn’t ever have to do that again). Keeping up with regular bills (rent, insurance, groceries, etc.) is difficult as is; having to deal with random, irregular expenses can be a nightmare. 

That’s why it is extremely frustrating when the university blindsides us with hidden costs. I’m not talking about hidden fees (though I’ve written a criticism of those as well), I’m talking about something even less predictable: project supply costs.

If you’re a student in the College of Arts & Sciences, chances are you’ve been assigned some form of graded project (i.e. models, graphic print outs, science experiments, etc.).  These assignments usually represent a large portion of their respective course grades, but they can also set you back by a big chunk of change all of those craft-store and print-shop runs can really add up. 

Worse still, there isn’t really a way to know ahead of time how much these projects will cost and, thus, no way to know if you can afford them. Students essentially have to roll the dice when signing up for these types of courses and potentially gamble away what little cash they have. That’s why I think the university should publish cost estimates and supply vendor recommendations for its classes.

One of the most frustrating and stressful class experiences I’ve had so far at the university was having to shell out over $100 to build a final project for a physics class. I was driving all over town collecting the pieces I needed and crossing my fingers hoping I wouldn’t run out of cash before I bought everything. Some of the things I needed weren’t available in Columbia and the professor didn’t have any on hand, so I desperately scoured the internet and paid several expedited fees just to get the project in on time. 

But what if I couldn’t scrape together the cash? 

What if I couldn’t afford to order the parts I needed? 

Would I just have had to settle for a lower grade? Probably. 

The grading of these projects is based on the final product, not the effort put into them. This is fair in theory, but, unfortunately, budgetary constraints can place the results of that final product outside of the student’s hands. 

College is supposed to allow students to rise above their financial circumstances and rise above their station. Getting bombarded with unexpected costs undermines that intent. Your success in school should be determined by your work ethic, not your ability to cover any random expense that comes your way. Student finances are complicated and frustrating, but they don’t have to stay that way. 

Publishing course costs ahead of time would be a practical way to give students a hand and prevent them from having to worry about going broke just to make the grade.

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