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iving on a college budget can be tight. Especially after you figure in the cost of parking tickets, late fees for library books and a liquid diet of Natty Light. Add a couple (hundred) dollars to repair dorm damages, and you can forget about that spring-break cruise. You're better off looking for a second or third job instead.

Eric Mechenbier learned the hard way. This U. of Oklahoma junior stuck his arm through an eight-foot-tall, triple thick window. But what really hurt was the final repair bill – it totaled more than $1,000. Ouch!

It's one thing to be charged for the window you stuck your arm through, but when the bill comes for a Saturday-night urinal in the elevator – and you go home every weekend – it's a different story. You see, when administrators can't pinpoint the culprit, innocent bystanders pay the price. Whether it's graffiti, empty fire extinguishers or damage to elevators, some colleges are making residents of an entire dorm, dorm floor or wing pay the price. And students aren't happy about it.

Elizabeth Leitch, a senior at the U. of Iowa, says she and her roommate were falsely charged $60 for a "damaged" phone. "I'm sure I'm not the only person who was charged [for unbroken equipment] – and for the people who really did [damage] stuff, I'm sure they charge them excessively," she says. "And yeah, it takes money to fix stuff, but I think they add on. I think they're making a profit."

At the U. of Maine, students have a say in the cost of dorm repairs. It works like this: if no one fesses up to dorm damages, a hall government board made up of students decides how to foot the bill. "It would be really easy to nickel and dime students after they were gone, but we do this to impact their [floor] communities," says Andy Matthews, associate director of campus living. Under this system, the average cost of damage per student in 1997-98 was $13.99.

Some students, like Seth Kric, a junior at Arizona State U., say dorm fees shouldn't be an issue. "If people take pride in where they live and work together with people living with them, it [dorm damage] doesn't happen – it all depends on the floor and the residents."

So if you find out that Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tom Everett Scott's suicidal roommate Cliff is living on your floor, you'd better ask for a transfer quick, or you could go broke.

By Alexis Bierman, U. of Illinois

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