Sue C's blog post about the cost of obtaining a black belt got me thinking about infamous testing fees. I'm not sure what they are like in other schools or what everyone's experience with them is, but here is my two cents: Testing Fees are BOGUS.
(Not going to lie, that felt really good to type)
Anyway, I'm sure it varies from school to school and in what part of the country/world you are in, but here in the U.S. testing fees can be astronomical.
Sensei Nick's perspective: Part of the reason he left his old school was this very reason. He wanted to test for his 5th dan but the fee was $600. Nick has explained it as "$600 for no real perceived benefit. Over time my certificates felt like they were worth less and less because the people who were also earning them achieved them with less and less effort."
Think about it. If you take a college class, you pay for the class and the materials up front. You take the class. You have your mid terms, and you take your final. You pay for your books and materials up front at the beginning of the class. (You buy your Gi, sparring gear, patches, student handbook, etc. up front.) They don't charge you to take your midterm or your final. You may even have to buy your blue book, but it's only $2 or $3. (If you have to charge, charge them for the belt or the certificate, which might be $8) Plus, you don't raise the price based on the student. Can you imagine walking into the book store, picking up your scan-tron sheets or blue book and getting to the register and having the cashier ask you if you are a graduate or undergrad student? If you're a freshman it's $2, if you're a sophomore it's $4, if you're a junior it's $6 and if you're a senior it's $10. If you're a graduate student it's $20. For the exact same blue book.
From my point, which also actually ending up affecting Sensei Nick, though I didn't know it till much later: In 2004 and 2005 I was a student of Sensei Nick's while I was in high school. I was testing for my 9th Kyu, first stripe in Aiki. After I passed my test Sensei Nick told me I could pay my testing fee at the front desk. This was the first time I had heard of a testing fee and I stared at him for a moment before breaking into tears and walking away.
Some of my adult friends pulled me aside to find out what was wrong and I explained to them that I would have to skip classes next month in order to pay for my test as I could not afford to pay the testing fee (which was only $30) and tuition for the next month (Which was only $40) at the same time. These are not very big amounts, but at that time I was going to school full time, working two jobs and paying for most of my own expenses. I'm sure this is a pretty common story and everyone can relate to this on some level, if not in high school certainly in college. Every extra cent I had went towards class. I had maybe $2.00 in my bank account at the time, which was the norm between paychecks after I had paid for gas, insurance, lunches, and tuition for class.
My friends ended up paying my testing fee for me and in the process had to explain to Nick why they were doing so. I ended up moving away to college/Colorado a short time after that and had to leave the school, but when I got back in touch with Nick 2010 I found out that because of what happened with me he eliminated testing fees from his school altogether. He said that he "could not believe he had made someone feel the way that the ass hole who told him his next test was $600 had made him feel". Guinn Martial Arts does not have any fees outside of purchasing your Gi and monthly tuition. When we get our Karate classes attendance up we will probably ask students to purchase their own sparring gear.
Sensei Nick and I are of the opinion that rank/testing fees are generally a way for more commercial schools to pump more money out of their students. Of course some people/instructors might try to defend their testing fee by saying "It covers the cost of the test and the belt and the certificate." etc. I do understand you have to run a business and make a profit to live, but at what point do the charges become exorbitant?
I don't know how most schools do testing, but I can say that most of the schools I have attended hold testing during normal dojo hours, at least until you get to brown or black belt and your tests are taking 3 hours or more. Even then, most of the schools I know of still hold these tests at certain dates of the year instead of Saturday classes, or other happenings during dojo open hours.
Nick has looked into and divided out the costs of common testing materials. A certificate costs no more then $2.00 per certificate to print, even on nice paper with color ink (It's closer to $1.20). A belt generally costs $5.00. With the exception of black belts which can cost up to $20, plus embroidery which can cost up to $30, raising the total cost of a very nice black belt to $50. Boards for breaking run about $1 a board.
I had a second experience when I was studying Kempo, they wanted me to test for my Orange belt and I told them I could not afford the testing fee. They pretty much insisted I attend the test that month and I needed to pay my fee in advance. It was a $75 fee on top of the $195 a month I was already paying for classes. My yellow belt test had been $60, and the fees went up with every belt. I looked my instructor square in the face and told him that if it was that important to him then I would test, but in order to do so I would be going hungry that month. He blinked at me like it had never occurred to him that people might not actually have money oozing out of their pockets.
So, if the dojo is open anyway, and the instructor would normally be running a class, and materials/supplies are generally under $10.00 per student per test, why are schools asking students to pay $65, $70, $120, $300, $600 and up per test???
Are organizational fees really this high??? Sensei Nick said that when he was looking at registering his black belt with different international organizations it was $25 and $35 to register, depending on which organization he went with. They didn't take registration for anything less then black belt. So why ask students to pay $400 for a 1st kyu or even 3rd kyu? If an organization's fees ARE this high, you should probably take a really good, long, hard look at what you get for being a member.
What are your school's testing fees? Do you feel these are adequate or exorbitant? Does your school do anything special for testing? (One school I went to gave t-shirts, a belt, and a certificate with your new rank.) If you ran your own school, or if you do run your own school, what would be/what is your testing fee policy and why?