How colleges spend admission fees unclear

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How colleges spend admission fees unclear

When Kim Tae-hyeon received his acceptance letter to Korea University in Seongbuk District, northern Seoul, he already had his next step planned.

Now fresh into adulthood, he wanted to earn his tuition independently, with no assistance whatsoever from his parents.

So Kim, 20, worked part-time at a coffee shop for the next three months and managed to save 4.5 million won ($3,726), enough to pay for his freshman spring semester.

But what he hadn’t realized before receiving his tuition bills was that he was a little more than 1 million won short - Korea University requires an additional “admission fee.”

“It doesn’t make sense that I have to pay more money just because I’m a newcomer,” Kim lamented. “When I asked the school about their spending plans for the extra costs, they couldn’t even give me a proper response.”

When a JoongAng Ilbo reporter called the school to ask for an explanation, a representative said the extra funds were used to “improve students’ education,” but did not elaborate.

A recent study by the Korea Higher Education Research Institute on 229 universities nationwide - 48 public institutes and 181 private ones - showed that Korea University had the highest admission fee in 2015 at 1.03 million won, followed by Dongguk University at 1.02 million won and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies at 1 million won.

Private universities averaged 720,000 won, all in all, while public schools averaged 140,000 won. Three schools in the study, including the Korea National University of Education in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, didn’t collect any admission fees in 2015.

Yet while the costs ran the gamut, the one commonality was that it remained unclear in all cases how each school spent the additional income.

That information is also absent from Higher Education in Korea, an online database that tallies statistics on domestic universities.

When a JoongAng Ilbo reporter randomly called a few universities for further details, all representatives gave largely vague answers.

A source from Hanyang University in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, said the extra funds went toward purchasing new land and property, while Sogang University in Mapo District, western Seoul, said that the school didn’t have “specific rules set out.”

Under Korea’s Higher Education Act, universities are free to use admission fees however they see fit; there are no regulations restricting the expenditure, which is categorized as “other.”

“Universities are groundlessly computing admission fees and siphoning most of it off on overall maintenance,” said Kim Ju-ho, a member of the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, adding that the organization has officially asked the National Assembly to amend current laws to improve transparency.

Kim eventually had to ask his parents to pay the additional 1 million won. “I still can’t understand why only freshmen have to pay more,” he said. “We’re using the same facilities as everyone else in the school. So why?”

BY JEONG JIN-WOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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