Course syllabi need to be more upfront about the hidden costs of classes

The cost of software and extra materials may not be mandatory to pass, but they certainly make success easier

How can I afford all these classes when I have $10 in my bank account? Illustration: Tiffany Chan/The Peak

By: Marco Ovies, Staff Writer

It’s the first day of class and I’m leaving the bookstore with my reusable SFU tote bag breaking at the seams. After dropping nearly $400 on books, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to afford the gas to get home. The bill hurts, but it is all a part of attending university — and besides, it’s only a one time thing right? 

Wrong.

Coming into class I realize that I need to purchase an “optional” supplementary text that is needed to do well on the essay worth 35% of my grade. On top of that, I need to pay extra for my professor to print out paper handouts for us to read as well (since email is apparently not a thing). It’s not until week three or four that I realize we will only be reading five pages out of the supplementary text I had bought. But by then, the window to return the textbook has long passed, and I’m still having to fork over even more money for things that I need to pass this course. All of a sudden I am out all this money that I hadn’t even planned on spending in the first place. 

How is it fair that I’m being forced to spend more money on a class than I had originally been told? Before enrolling in any class I check the syllabus online to see what I’ll be needing to buy. Professors should be putting the total cost of all the extra items needed for the class in the required material section as well. If they know that they’re going to need to charge me $10 for PDF print-outs, they should include it instead of telling me on the first day when I find out I can’t bring my laptop to class. 

To put my financial situation into perspective for you, I paid for my lunch in dimes the other day. The fact that I can even afford to be at SFU in the first place is a miracle in itself. So if each class tacks on an extra $40 fee, and I’m doing a five-course load, that’s an unplanned $200 I’m having to spend. If these costs had been given upfront then I could have budgeted for these things earlier, rather than struggling to pay them off as a sudden expense. 

And superfluous textbooks aren’t the only hidden fees students can encounter at university. The cost of software for students who don’t want or can’t use the SFU library computers (that are rarely available to begin with) is one of them. Licensing fees for Adobe Creative Cloud, the cost of printing a poster for an “official” looking project, purchasing physical iClickers or similar hardware, and even purchasing project materials can all add up to seriously eat into students’ meager disposable incomes. These hidden costs pop up in every major and it’s time for it to end. 

Mid-semester expenses make succeeding inaccessible to some students who can’t afford unexpected costs for materials. Valuable time they could be using to study or polish up a project is instead used to scrounge for extra money. These costs are especially frustrating when they are required to succeed at the A-level in a class. Grades shouldn’t be handed out on the basis of a student’s ability to pay for materials. It’s easy to dismiss a lot of these costs as not strictly mandatory, in the sense that tuition and core textbooks are. However for many students, not having the ability to shoulder these supplementary costs or absorb them unexpectedly means losing out on the time or resources to really make an assignment shine.

Classes are turning into pay-to-win situations like Clash of Clans. Professors designing these classes need to be more mindful of students’ budgets and should consider either listing these extra costs in course descriptions, or deciding that using five pages of a textbook does not warrant asking students to spend $80 on it. 

Some costs associated with being a student are unavoidable. Pencils, notebooks, and even laptops are necessary for almost any class. These costs don’t need to be listed, but course-specific costs should be. Most of us are struggling students living pay cheque to pay cheque and these expenses start to add up. School is costly enough as it is so please professors, help everyone out and tell us how much the class is really going to be.