In the past, college and university students typically paid tuition and fees based on the number of credits they enrolled in. Recently, some schools have implemented a differential tuition fee, charging a higher rate for certain courses or programs to offset the costs of more specialized degrees.

Rationale for Differentiated Tuition

Upper-level courses tend to have fewer students, making them more expensive to present, and some degrees such as engineering require more material and faculty with specialized experience and education. For example, Michigan Technological University charges differential tuition -- a fee on top of general tuition -- for juniors and seniors or those enrolled in more expensive degree areas. Other schools like the University of South Florida add the fees to all undergraduate students' bills in an attempt to offset the costs of research and high-quality faculty. USF says the higher fees are necessary to provide students with a competitive education.

Impact of Differential Tuition

The amount charged for differential tuition varies widely, ranging from $150 to $900 just at MTU and a little over $44 at the University of Central Florida, amounting to a hike of about 42 percent for tuition for UCF students at the time of publication. Some studies indicate these increased costs affect the numbers of students who enter such programs. A study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that both business and engineering enrollments dropped after these programs added differential tuition fees -- as much as 1.1 percent for engineering. Increased financial aid failed to mitigate the concerns students had about the costs, and women and minorities in particular avoid programs with higher price tags, according to the study.