Teresa Lewandowski accepted a graduate assistantship at the University of Maryland thinking that all was taken care of — the letter offering her the position noted that her tuition would be covered by the school.
But another graduate assistant told her tuition remission didn’t cover student fees — $449 per semester for Lewandowski, who takes less than 9 credits on the campus. When the information studies master’s student went to pay this amount, she was surprised to find that an extra $600 had also been tacked on to her bill, which now came to over $1,000.
Like nine other graduate programs, the information studies college charges students per-credit fees that are higher than average. Since the tuition remission that comes with graduate assistantships only covers the standard billing total — $717 per credit for Maryland residents and $1,548 for non-residents — students in these programs are expected to make up the difference.
But this detail isn’t communicated clearly, said Lewandowski, who works as a graduate assistant in the advising department for the behavioral and social sciences college.
“I feel like it should always be explicitly stated,” she said. “You should know, ‘Oh, when I go to pay my tuition, I might have to pay $900 on the spot.’ That could take some financial planning for someone.”
For instance, students at the information studies college have to pay an extra $100 per credit for online courses. Yet the students feel this wasn’t clearly communicated to them; though costs are listed on the program’s tuition and fees page, they are not given when students sign up for classes on Testudo.
Laura Ours, a spokesperson for the behavioral and social sciences college, wrote in an email that graduate assistants are encouraged to speak with their employer and program advisor to clear up questions about the job offer.
“A lot of people don’t think to go on to their school’s websites to check [for extra fees],” Lewandowski said. “If you weren’t aware that these fees existed, why would you go looking for them?”
The graduate school considers it “best practice” for departments to include the policy on extra fees in their offer letters for graduate assistants, graduate school spokesperson Mary Carroll-Mason wrote in an email. The school provides a template for these letters that includes this information on its website, but has no way of tracking or enforcing its use, Carroll-Mason added.
Lewandowski isn’t the only graduate assistant who received an offer letter that neglected to disclose the policy. MacGregor Obergfell’s letter from the fraternity and sorority life department noted that his assistantship would come with tuition remission, but did not specify he would still have to pay student fees.
Since Obergfell worked with graduate students at Ohio State University before coming to this university, he understood that these fees wouldn’t be included under tuition remission. But the higher education master’s student is concerned that graduate students coming directly from the private sector or undergraduate careers wouldn’t have the same insight.
“If you’re a graduate student who has a family at home, the difference in $400 in fees that’s unexpected could be making rent that month or not,” he said. “It could be the difference of putting food on the table.”
Harsh Doshi, a master’s student in the business school — another program with extra fees — thought that his 10 hour per week assistantship in the school’s IT department would fully cover tuition for five credits.
In an email, Cliff McCormick, assistant dean of MBA and MS admissions at the business school, wrote that formal admission letters sent to students include the awards associated with each graduate assistantship package, including the tuition discount.
But the letter that offered Doshi his position referred to this tuition discount as a tuition remission for $6,830. It did not note that Doshi would be responsible for paying a portion of his tuition.
A month before Doshi was set to arrive at this university from India, he found out he’d be paying about $17,750 — around $4,000 more than he had anticipated. His father had to borrow money from his company to make up the difference.
“You end up sitting with all these calculations and they never seem to add up,” Doshi said.
This sentiment is familiar to many graduate students, Obergfell said, many of whom have to take out loans to pay for the cost of attending this university.
“Every dollar that we earn has a specific purpose for us to succeed in graduate school," he said. "Not knowing the exact cost of tuition and fees can be a huge hurdle.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Teresa Lewandowski takes less than 9 credits. She is taking exactly 9 credits, but 6 of those are from online courses, which is why her mandatory fees totaled $449. Credits associated with online courses are not subject to student fees in the iSchool.