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$50K Becoming New Norm at Private Colleges

November 3, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

More private colleges than ever before are charging $50,000 a year or more in tuition and other fees, according to an analysis of College Board data done by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Last year, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. This year, 58 did.

Most students receive some merit- or need-based scholarship or grant money to help cover some of those costs, but according to the Chronicle, the average scholarship and grant amounts at the highest priced schools was around $13,000 a year, leaving students and their families to fend for themselves when it comes to looking for outside scholarships, grants and student loans. Despite those staggering numbers, many of the most expensive schools haven't suffered in terms of declining enrollment, and have expansion and economic recovery plans in the works where the additional funding will come in handy.

Bucknell University, where tuition, fees, room, and board totaled about $50,300 this year, a 22-percent jump over the last six years, plans to hire more faculty and increase aid. And that school wasn't even in the top five most expensive colleges. Those honors go to Sarah Lawrence College ($55,788), Landmark College ($53,900), Georgetown University ($52,161), New York University ($51,993), and George Washington University ($51,775), in that order.

At the same time, many private colleges and universities are predicting a decrease in revenue and net tuition despite increasing enrollment rates and increasing tuition costs. The Moody's report "New Tuition Challenges at Many U.S. Private Universities" surveyed 100 private schools and found that nearly 30 percent experienced drops in net revenue and fees for the 2010 fiscal year. This suggests those schools are offering more in terms of financial aid. An article in Inside Higher Education today says some schools may have tried to compensate for a weak economy and projections of low enrollment levels (which for many private colleges turned out not to be the case) with more financial aid offered to incoming students. Most of the public institutions surveyed, however, expect increases in revenue, according to Moody's.

So what does this mean for private schools? The Chronicle suggests not much. Enrollments so far have supported high tuition rates (and rising median salaries among presidents at private colleges), and a ceiling hasn't yet been set. Does this suggest that students could be seeing $60,000 in annual costs to attend many of the top private institutions? Possibly. But that would mean financial aid would need to keep up alongside those rising costs. What do you think? How much is too much? If you're facing sticker shock, be sure to evaluate all of your options. If you're set on a school, look outside that college for financial aid assistance. Conduct a free scholarship search to see awards you may qualify for that could make a dent in your cost of attendance, and do your research with a college search so that you know exactly what you could be paying at that dream school.


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