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Top Colleges Are Cheaper Than You Think (Unless You’re Rich)

The New York Times

July 7, 2018


The cost of college is a notoriously complex subject. The list price at many private colleges, including tuition, fees, room and board, has reached the bewildering sum of $70,000 a year. But the real price, taking into account financial aid, is often vastly lower.

How much lower? We’re here to help answer that question.

More than 30 top colleges now participate in a simple online calculator that provides cost estimates to families. (And those 30 typically charge similar prices to other selective colleges.) The New York Times has analyzed the data from the calculator and is publishing the results here. It’s a snapshot of what college really costs.

Our central finding is that top colleges are more affordable than many people realize – not only for poor students but also for those from the middle-class.

Typical lower-income students – from a family earning $50,000 or less, for example – face an annual bill of $6,000. Students can often cover that cost through part-time work and a small annual loan, without their parents having to pay additional money.

Middle-class families pay a higher price, but nothing like the list price. Only affluent families pay something close to the list price. It’s true that many of these families don’t think of themselves as affluent. But they are – part of roughly the country’s richest 10 percent, with an annual income of at least $175,000 and a net worth of a half-million dollars or more. For them, a college bill approaching $70,000 can be decidedly unpleasant, yet it doesn’t reorder their lives.

The bottom line is that the cost of college is a serious issue in this country, but not quite in the way that many people think. Colleges with intimidating list prices aren’t the biggest problem, because they often offer substantial financial aid and have very high graduation rates. Low-income students at these colleges certainly don’t have it easy. Many initially struggle to fit in on elite campuses. Yet the bulk of them go on to graduate, emerge with manageable amounts of debt and get good jobs.