In a domain once reserved for U.S. News & World Report, the government is stepping in to rank United States colleges by affordability, as mandated by Congress. This ties right into zeitgeist; thousands of families are thinking about college as we head deeper into summer, and high school students and their parents are evaluating their options in a period of higher unemployment and lower income.
The U.S. Department of Education has developed an online tool that allows visitors to view a list of the top and bottom colleges as ranked by total tuition and required fees and by total net cost, the latter taking grants and scholarships into account. The reports can be filter by type of institution from among the following choices:
- 4-year public
- 4-year private not-for-profit
- 4-year private for-profit
- 2-year public
- 2-year private not-for-profit
- 2-year private for-profit
- Less than 2-year public
- Less than 2-year private not-for-profit
- Less than 2-year private for-profit
The tool also conveniently offers a summary of schools that have seen the largest increase in fees from one year to the next, leading into the year for which the latest data are available. Among four-year public schools, for example, the highest increase in net costs is Northwest Indian College, which soared from $484 one year to $11,731 the next, an increase of over 2,000 percent. While I’m not familiar with the details of this particular schools, I am aware that many institutions are losing state funding due to a variety of budget crises, and as a result, must lean more on tuition to fund operations rather than state aid. This highest increase among private four-year colleges is striking, as well, with Our Lady of Holy Cross College students seeing increased costs from $428 to $2,874, a 571 percent increase.
For colleges that charge out-of-state visiting students a different tuition schedule than they charge in-state residents, the information presented through this tool will be unreliable. As a New Jersey resident, for example, I couldn’t use this tool to compare my expected cost difference between attending a college in New Jersey and in Delaware. Attending school in Delaware, I would need to pay the out-of-state rate, which is often significantly higher than the in-state rate. Since the tool only includes in-state tuition costs, I’d have to do more research to compare my options.
I never suggest people should shop around for the absolute lowest cost, whether pertaining to colleges or any other product. Saving money is a worthy goal, but it makes sense to pay for value. For many products, measuring value is relatively easily (except for the needed circumvention of the effects of marketing and advertising). Estimating the value of one particular college over another is quite difficult, so students often end up choosing the school that feels right — unless the choice is dictated by the parents.
Here are the five lowest-cost private four-year schools:
|Universidad Teologica del Caribe||PR||$82|
|Talmudical Academy-New Jersey||NJ||$469|
|Colegio Pentecostal Mizpa||PR||$1,776|
|Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary||TX||$1,876|
|John Dewey College-University Division||PR||$1,956|
Here are the five lowest-cost public four-year schools:
|Sitting Bull College||ND||$938|
|Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico||PR||$995|
|South Texas College||TX||$1,317|
|University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla||PR||$1,591|
|The University of Texas-Pan American||TX||$1,646|
How did the cost of tuition factor in which college to attend (for you or your children)? Is cost a good method of choosing a college? Is the Department of Education’s new tool helpful for making this decision?
Published or updated July 5, 2011.