Monday, May 14, 2012

"Sticker Price" versus "Net Price"

One of the focuses in our students' junior year is on examining factors that will influence the list of colleges that they will apply to.  In-state or out-of-state?  Large or small?  Urban or rural?  Choice of majors?  Public or private?

This last one is one that every year I talk about with anyone who will listen.  Most of my students will apply to in-state, Virginia schools.  Why wouldn't they?  We are home to some of the top public colleges in the nation--University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, and Virginia Polytechnic University.  Families in Virginia have every right to be proud of these schools and they are great fits for so many students.

However, public, in-state schools are not the only game in town.  What about private colleges and universities?  Whenever I bring this option up to families, the first words I hear are "they're too expensive.  We can't possibly afford it."  It then takes an awful lot of convincing on my part to get them to even think of taking a look at a few.  It saddens me a bit, because many private colleges, with a focus on the liberal arts, smaller classes, and an emphasis on teaching versus research, would be an excellent fit for more of my students than I think apply.  What about this question of cost?

Take a listen to this report, The Real Price of College, from NPR's Planet Money, their group of reporters that focus on economic topics.  This segment discusses how there is a "sticker price" at private colleges and then the price that students actually pay, the "net price."  For a lot of strong students (good to excellent grades, decent test scores, talents in the arts and/or athletic fields) there can be a great deal of need and merit based financial aid at these schools--only a small percentage of students at private colleges and universities actually pay the full sticker-price.  This report goes inside several private colleges' admissions departments and discusses how and why they make decisions that grant so much money to students.  A college may charge $55,000 a year for tuition, room-and-board, and additional expenses, but many students will be granted aid-packages that ultimately make the cost comparable to their public state school of choice.  As high-school counselors, it is our responsibility to make sure that our students and families have all the possible options out there on the table, and that should include non-profit private institutions of higher learning.

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