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The net price of college

In a story that published today (or so I hear; my five-year-old refuses to scamper out into the blizzard to fulfill his usual morning duty and grab the paper), I attempt to iron out the difference between the "list price" and the "net price" of a college education.

The message, in a nutshell: sticker prices are rising fast, but the increase is smaller when you account for inflation, and it's erased completely when you factor in grant aid, which is rising as fast as tuition and fees.

I wanted to refer readers to a couple additional resources:

Here is an analysis by the Institute for College Access and Success that goes a long way toward predicting what you'll pay at any of the most selective private colleges in the nation. It details the terms of the aid "pledge" offered by each school. If the school says it will cover the full cost of your attendance, that usually means grant aid, but it could include loans, and there may be a limit on household income to qualify. Even better, it estimates, for each school, the net cost of attendance by family income. At Haverford College, for example, the net cost might range from $3,900 for a family with $20,000 income to full price for a family earning $160,000 or more. The data are at least a year old.

And here is a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that gives the exact number -- 58 -- of colleges that charge $50,000 or more. This is sticker price, mind you. Actual costs may vary.

Finally, some leftover data from my story. The article included (I think -- perhaps someone who has found their paper in the snow can confirm this) a chart showing the effect of grant aid on the price of several local universities. Many thanks to the schools that helped me assemble the chart, by providing up-to-date statistics for the 2008-09 academic year. Remember, colleges are not entirely comfortable publishing net price data, because anyone whose aid package is not "average" is liable to get confused, and roughly half the class is apt to feel cheated.

Here I will provide some supplementary data: full price versus net price for 10 colleges for 2007-08, the most recent data available to the public (and to me) from the federal College Navigator web site. (Check it out!) I am told the feds are very eager to expand this site with additional data and tools to help regular people compare college quality and cost.

Remember, these figures are pretty stale. But the net price is probably not much higher now than it was then.

American University: Full cost (2007-8), $45,137; average grant aid, $17,837; average net price for grant recipients, $27,300; share receiving grants, 64%

Catholic University: Full cost, $43,098; average aid, $12,658; average net price, $30,440; share receiving aid, 95%

Georgetown University: Full cost, $51,090; average aid, $23,538; average net price, $27,552; share receiving aid, 46%

George Washington University: Full cost, $53,110; average aid, $22,302; average net price, $30,808; share receiving aid, 53%

Howard University: Full cost, $24,046; average aid, $6,825; average net price, $17,221; share receiving aid, 80%

Dartmouth College: Full cost, $48,236; average aid, $27,072; average net price, $21,164; share receiving aid, 59%

Duke University: Full cost, $47,975; average aid, $23,926; average net price, $24,049; share receiving aid, 55%

Harvard University: Full cost, $48,550; average aid, $28,866; average net cost, $19,684; share receiving aid, 60%

Johns Hopkins University: Full cost, $48,992; average aid, $24,824; average net cost, $24,168; share receiving aid, 47%

University of Pennsylvania: Full cost, $49,080; average aid, $22,220; average net cost, $26,860; share receiving aid, 54%

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By Daniel de Vise  |  February 10, 2010; 11:03 AM ET
Categories:  Access , Admissions , Aid , Finance , Research  | Tags: AU, Catholic University of America, Dartmouth College, GWU, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, net price, tuition and fees  
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