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Ely: Waiving Application Fees is a Small Solution to a Big Problem

The power dynamics of supply and demand in higher education allow institutions to impose fees, perpetuating inequality based on financial capacity.
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Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Applying to graduate schools has become expensive — coming from someone currently applying. Picking up extra shifts just to afford the application fees of schools only adds to the burden and stress of the application process. Many students are upset by the reality that they must pay schools to even consider admitting them — and even then, there’s no guarantee. Luckily, the Utah Board of Higher Education recently voted to end application fees for in-state students. This change is a relief to many as it eliminates one less mandatory payment.

When applying to schools, admission committees require prospective students to pay an application fee as an initial task. High fees cause many students to seek another path, since paying hundreds of dollars to institutions they aren’t a part of is unsustainable.

Reducing costs allows more accessibility to higher education — a $55 application fee is just the beginning of many people’s student debt. Although a good start to a national problem, the cost of education after high school is a contributing problem to the cycle of supply and demand.

Undeniable College Debt

In April 2023, only 170 out of almost 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. did not require an application fee. Utah’s public universities now maintain a spot on the list. The cost of college is an overwhelming burden to many, especially students from lower-class households. College application fees create a barrier to higher education by excluding students who cannot afford to apply.

The fees don’t stop with applications, either. On top of paying thousands of dollars for an education, you also must pay parking fees, textbook fees, course fees, international fees, grad school fees and even first-year student fees.

Many college students graduate with an impending sense of dread, with college debt looming over them. Roughly 43.6 million people have some kind of federal student loan debt. Unless you are born into wealth, the only option to pay for school is to borrow money, only to work your whole life to pay it back due to predatory lending practices.

Supply and Demand in College

You don’t need to be a business major to understand the concept of supply and demand. Colleges and universities hold an undeniable gift millions of people want: higher education. Because universities can supply degrees that, in turn, will open many doors, the demand continues to rise. The more prestigious the school, the fewer students will get in. The lower the supply, the higher the demand.

Due to the high demand for these schools, there’s no need for them to provide any encouragement for students to enroll. Instead, they find any way they possibly can to charge these prospective students more money — including raising the cost of application fees for students. Harvard University’s application fee was $85 this year and Stanford’s $90, compared to $55 here at the University of Utah and $50 at Utah State University.

When education adheres to supply and demand, fewer privileges students are locked out of the opportunities it provides from the very first step. Although the idea may seem logical, it discriminates against those who cannot afford the application fees. Resources, connections, tutoring opportunities and even scholarships continue to be advantages upper-class students may have access to over lower-income students.

The few qualifications to waive a fee leave the majority of prospective students remaining non-applicable. While FAFSA and student aid can be beneficial for the cost of tuition, I wish you good luck being able to qualify for aid when it comes to application fees.

A Small Step in the Right Direction

College application fees pose a significant financial hurdle for students seeking higher education. Many people of all demographics have a strong desire to receive an education after high school. The power dynamics of supply and demand in higher education allow institutions to impose fees, perpetuating inequality based on financial capacity. This inequality, then being pushed back into the admissions cycle, results in only accepting students who can pay the initial fee.

The alternative to this fee would be to waive it altogether. Unfortunately, this solution seems unlikely considering the nationwide stance. Until then, fellow Utahns can be grateful they no longer must pay excessive application fees to in-state colleges and universities. Colleges and universities outside of Utah must consider adopting the same policy.

 

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Emma Ely

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About the Contributor
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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