Sticker Shock: What is the Real Cost of College?

CNBC: “According to the College Board’s 2018 Trends in College Pricing Report, from 1988 to 2018, sticker prices tripled at public four-year schools and doubled at public two-year and private non-profit four-year schools … During the 2018 – 2019 school year, the reported tuition at private non-profit four-year schools is an average $35,830. But in reality, many students end up paying far less. Here’s how. College ‘sticker prices’ include tuition, fees, room and board (TFRB) and do not account for scholarships, grants and tax benefits … students typically pay less than the published price.”

“In fact, the average net price of tuition and fees in 2019 is $14,610 at private nonprofit four-year schools. These students typically receive an average $21,220 in grant aid and tax benefits. Similar discounts are also in effect at public colleges. During the 2018 – 2019 school year, the reported sticker price for in-state students is $10,230 at public four-year schools, but the average net tuition and fees is closer to $3,740.”

However: “Many students underestimate the cost of living expenses when they go to college … more than a third of students struggle with basic needs such as food and housing. Prospective students also often overlook graduation rates when they are considering colleges, but they can be an important measures of a school’s quality and cost … just 40 percent of first-time full-time bachelor’s students earn their degree in four years, and only 59 percent earn their bachelor’s in six years … students may want to estimate what six years of tuition and fees will cost them at schools with low four-year graduation rates, and be mindful of planning their schedules and making the most of AP and other college credits.”

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Hidden Gem: Norwalk Community College

With so much attention diverting to the deep, dark underside of higher education, let’s take a moment to shine a light on a hometown hidden gem: Norwalk Community College. NCC may not project much as a status symbol, but it certainly deserves serious consideration by certain high-schoolers. Surprisingly, this includes the highest performing students.

Here’s why: The most selective universities favor applicants who not only take advantage of everything their high schools have to offer, but who also pursue additional opportunities above and beyond the norm. Students who want to impress dream schools with their passion for learning should think about enrolling in a high-level course or two at NCC. Their application will be all the more outstanding and memorable for it.

NCC is, of course, best known as a place for those who are just not quite ready for a four-year college experience. This could be because of academic issues, financial considerations, emotional state, or some other personal reason. For such students and others, NCC offers an attractive pathway to a four-year college. For one thing, it maintains a special arrangement with UConn, which guarantees transfer admission to NCC associate-degree graduates with at least a 3.0. Not bad! For another, it provides a low-cost way to earn college credits before transferring to a four-year school.

At a two-year tuition cost of about $9,000, students can take care of basic college requirements on their way to a bachelor’s degree at one of America’s finer universities, up to and including the Ivy League. It’s a fact: NCC grads have been known to go onto Columbia, Yale and other highly selective schools. Indeed, many elite schools pride themselves on accepting community college grads.

Sadly, community colleges are often dismissed and even derided. That’s not only unfair, but outdated and just plain wrong. Right here, in our own backyard, is a local treasure, Norwalk Community College. Can you dig it?

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Tuition Question: Ivory Tower or Bargain Basement?

The Washington Post: “As soaring tuition scares off many families, a growing number of private colleges have embraced a marketing tactic associated more with selling airline tickets or flat-screen televisions than higher education: a price cut … The movement exposes a reality of higher education long hidden in plain sight: The difference between sticker prices and what the average student actually pays is often vast.”

“Twenty-three private institutions have reduced tuition since 2016, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities … Their reasons vary. Some need to bolster recruiting in the face of major financial challenges. Others want to escape a pricing formula that assumes prospective students view high tuition as a mark of educational quality even though they simultaneously seek significant discounts or financial aid.”

“The most prestigious schools enroll large numbers of students willing and able to pay full price. Federal data show the share of full-paying undergraduates in 2016-2017 — those who received no grants — was 42 percent at Princeton University, 50 percent at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and 57 percent at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn … But many schools have few full-pay students. The Washington Post found more than 310 colleges and universities in 2016-2017 where at least 95 percent of undergraduates received grants or scholarships.”

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In Tuition: College ‘Pre-Pay’ Gains Popularity

Times Union: “To broaden college access and affordability, lawmakers have in the past pushed for a ‘pre-paid’ plan that would let families lock in tuition for their kids by paying in advance … So far, 11 states have added pre-paid components to their 529 savings plans, according to the Rockefeller Institute study. Those include a plan in Massachusetts that lets savers lock in half of their future tuition: If tuition was, say, $10,000 today, a $5,000 Tuition Certificate would be guaranteed to cover 50 percent of tuition — no matter how much the tuition cost increases in the future.”

“Florida, which has the nation’s largest pre-paid, plan lets parents lock in tuition at a state school from a child’s birth. At the current rate, families that paid $186.28 per month from the child’s arrival would cover tuition and fees for 120 credits, enough to earn a bachelor’s degree.”

“A November report by the Brookings Institution found that parents accumulating six-figure loans for their children are making up a record share of borrowers for college loans … Not everyone is convinced that pre-paid programs are the answer. The New York Public Interest Research Group believes more financial aid is needed. It’s unclear what schools overall think of pre-payment plans … One potential challenge the schools might be contemplating: If costs go up faster than expected, schools might face a financial gap if a lot of families have locked in their tuition rates.”

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Maryland Students ‘Crowdfund’ Tuition

The Baltimore Sun: “Thousands of students … have increasingly taken advantage of crowdsourcing platforms to help them cope with steady increases in tuition and fees in Maryland and across the country … The number of education-related campaigns has increased each year since GoFundMe launched in 2010, said spokeswoman Heidi Hagberg. She said that more than $70 million a year has been raised on the platform for educational initiatives, with more than 100,000 annual fundraisers for causes ranging from teachers’ back-to-school drives to students’ college tuition.”

“GoFundMe hosted twice as many campaigns in 2017 as in the previous year related to college tuition in Maryland, Hagberg said in an email. And according to GoFundMe data from the 2016-2017 academic year, the most recent available, about $1.5 million was raised for Marylanders’ educational purposes in roughly 3,200 campaigns.”

“John Quelch, dean of the University of Miami business school and an expert in consumer behavior, said widespread acknowledgement of the onerous nature of paying for college motivates many students to feel comfortable publicizing their need.”

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Tuition ‘Resets’ Yield Mixed Results

Forbes: “For decades, the cost of college in the US has risen meteorically. But now, a four-year degree has become so expensive that some colleges and universities think costs have hit somewhat of ceiling – and are slashing tuition by as much as 50% in hopes they can attract more students .. So far the move – known as a “tuition reset” – has had middling results. Only 27% of schools studied by the Education Advisory Board that had employed tuition resets as a strategy managed to sustain enrollment gains of 5% or more. In addition, only 29% of schools managed to meet a 3% revenue growth target following their tuition reset.”

“Small, private, liberal arts institutions are predominantly the ones electing to adopt tuition resets. Ten schools pursued the strategy this year, and four have already announced cuts for 2019-2020. Seton Hall University, a private Catholic school, slashed tuition by 61% in 2012-2013. Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts institution in Virginia that announced it would close in 2015 – and was resurrected by alumnae the next year – reduced tuition by 32% this year.”

“The College of William and Mary, an elite public school in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1999 was among the first to pursue a reset, though the concept has become trendy just in the last few years. More than four dozen schools used the tactic in the past decade, and more are likely to follow.”

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College Coupons: Some Schools Discount Tuition

The Wall Street Journal: “Escalating the heated battle for students, some private colleges are offering to match public in-state tuition … The discounts aren’t limited to private schools. Public universities in Michigan, South Dakota and Nebraska now let students from other states pay as if they were locals.”

“Some colleges, facing dwindling populations of local high school graduates, are motivated to attract students from across the country. Others are battling the perception they aren’t affordable or looking to boost their academic profiles.”

“The price-match guarantee, a sales tactic borrowed from retailers, illustrates how fiercely competitive higher education has become. It also adds to the confusion over how much college really costs, especially at private schools. Although the pricing campaigns suggest major savings, already generous financial-aid packages mean the net price for many students won’t change by much.”

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How Much Is That College Degree Worth?

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Quartz: “While Americans without university degrees have seen a fair rise in household income in recent years, they still lag far behind their college-educated peers. Per triennial data from the US Federal Reserve published this week, people with college degrees these days have a median net worth more than four times that of people without.”

“It’s not that college-educated Americans are making dramatically more money than before—in fact, their median net worth has only grown 2% between 2013 and 2016—but rather that those without college degrees still have a long way to go to catch up. In that three-year period for which Fed data was collected, the median net worth for those with only a high school diploma actually jumped around 25%, from $54,100 to $67,100. But the median net worth for those with college degrees is $292,100.”

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Supply & Demand Reduces Tuition Costs

The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. college tuition is growing at the slowest pace in decades, following a nearly 400% rise over the past three decades that fueled middle class anxieties and a surge in student debt … Abundant supply is running up against demand constraints … Longer-running economic and demographic shifts also are at play. Lower birthrates and the aging of baby boomer children have reduced the pool of traditional college-age Americans.”

“Another factor: Congress last increased the maximum amount undergraduates could borrow from the government in 2008. Some economists have concluded schools raise prices along with increases in federal financial aid. A clampdown on aid, in turn, could limit the ability of schools to charge more … Moreover, the number of schools is declining in response to oversupply, particularly among for-profit schools, a trend that could reduce competition and increase pricing leverage for schools that remain open.”

“Public four-year colleges, which teach the majority of bachelor’s candidates in the nation and tend to be cheaper than private schools, are benefiting from increases in direct state funding as tax revenues improve. That has eased schools’ need to raise prices on students … State officials have also pressured schools, through legislation and public speeches, to rein in prices, and they are admitting more international students to boost revenues.”

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Super Seniors: The Six-Year Plan

The Wall Street Journal: “Low graduation rates hurt a school’s reputation, and staying enrolled for extra years adds to the tab for students. So dozens of schools and statewide systems are trying to cut back on the number of ‘super seniors’ milling about campus.”

“Schools have embraced marketing gimmicks like ‘Class of ’17’ bumper stickers to rally students around their graduation year. But they also are changing how they price a semester to make it easier to stay on pace to graduate, notifying students eligible to graduate that they should do so soon, and altering the classes offered in a given term to help students take the courses they need.”

“Nationally, four in 10 students who entered college for the first time as full-time freshmen in 2008 graduated within four years. The six-year rate hovers around 60% … Meanwhile, students who are ready to move on can struggle to get credit for how far they have come. With more than one-third of students now attending multiple institutions during their college careers, convoluted credit-transfer policies continue to slow the timeline to graduation.”

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