The Real Cost of Colleges

Planet Money has put together a very cool tool showing the average net price that students pay at 1,550 colleges at various income levels, rather than the sticker price (the net price being the sticker price colleges put on their brochures minus grants, scholarships and financial aid).

What we find is something we discussed a few weeks ago: that it’s often cheaper to attend elite private universities after accounting for financial aid if you come from a low-income family than it is to attend a public four-year institution, due to budget cuts in education at the state level. Elite private colleges have large endowments that help subsidize the cost of college.

For the sake of comparison, here are two colleges I went to: one public, one private:

As we can see, and as Planet Money remarks, the cost curve for public universities is flatter because “public colleges don’t offer steep discounts for low-income families” in the way private colleges can. Andrew Kelly, an education policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Planet Money: “The fact that sticker shock is turning students away — that’s a mistake. If your family is poor, then aim as high as you academically can and see what the schools offer.”

The net price for UCI is much higher than it was for me when I attended there in the aughts, which shows the significant effects that state budget cuts in California have had on public education since then. I’m curious to know if you’re seeing similar results at the schools you attended after trying out the tool.

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