Publication | March 10, 2021

College Fees | The Second Sticker Shock: How Michigan State Free Tuition Programs Still Leave Students With Substantial College Bills

Sticker shock based on known tuition and fee costs can be profound for college students, and clear communication about how available financial aid will help cover those costs is critical. Often overlooked, however, is the second shock of unanticipated charges in the form of additional fees, and the effects they have on affordability and even enrollment and completion. These fees can be especially consequential for students who participate in a free tuition program, such as Michigan Reconnect or Futures for Frontliners, and were reasonably expecting minimal additional out-of-pocket direct expenses. Additional course fees assessed to technical courses also provide a disincentive to low-income students to enter STEM fields, which also often yield higher paying jobs for graduates. This new analysis from TICAS and the Michigan Student Financial Aid Associations sheds light on the limitations of state “tuition free” programs and recommends policy changes to help put a college degree more squarely within reach for eligible students.