State Universities: an expensive, but known, way to attend college

WBUR has an article about how the best poor students aren’t applying to top-notch colleges: they see the exorbitant sticker prices and then decide to apply to state schools.  They aren’t aware that the best schools usually give out very generous financial aid – so generous, in fact, that they are often less expensive than state universities.  For top students of limited means, state schools are often the most expensive way to attend university.

Let’s do the math:

UMass Amherst has merit aid awards for top students; unfortunately, those awards only cover the tuition.  Tuition is $857 per semester.  Room, board, books, and fees are another $21,500 per year.  It costs a kid at least $85,000 to get a UMass Amherst diploma, even if that student is a valedictorian.

Compare to Harvard.  Harvard students whose families earn less than $65,000 per year automatically pay nothing to attend.  For students of less limited means, Harvard is still a good bargain: the university boasts that 90% of American families would pay less for their kid to attend that prestigious Cambridge institution than to attend their state university.

Even if a student isn’t Harvard material, many schools offer extremely generous financial aid.  One of my classmates at Tufts paid $3,000 per year – which included room and board.  (Savings over UMass Amherst: enough to buy a new Porsche.) Many people who got into top schools took full merit aid at institutions like Northeastern, W&L, or Vassar.  Full merit at those schools leaves students with an annual cost of attendance of $14,500, $16,000, and $12,000, respectively.

Top students can get a fancy private school education and a luxury automobile for less than they would spend at state universities.

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Filed under Academia, Economics

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