How much should costs (tuition, room and board, etc.) be a factor when students are choosing prospective colleges?
There’s been quite a bit written over the last few years about the rising costs of college — both for tuition and for room and board. The price colleges charge to students and their families has risen much faster than inflation, and some experts worry that the more college costs rise, the more likely a larger percentage of the population will be excluded from obtaining a college degree. On the plus side, much more financial assistance is available to students who seek it, so students should NOT eliminate any college purely on cost.
Here are the answers to this question from each member of our panel:
Gary L. Ross, Colgate University
Costs for college tuition, room, board, and related fees have grown to levels where there are just a tiny number of people do not need to be considered about the considerable expense involved. Even the cost for one student’s text books for one term has hit the stratosphere! Why then do I say that it would be a mistake to immediately rule our an institution after one takes a first look at the costs and immediately concludes it is too expensive? It would be a mistake to make a hasty judgment by only considering what you THINK the costs would be. There are other important factors to consider in the search for a college.
Students should focus first on finding colleges and universities that have all or most of what they are seeking. Now I am not recommending that students ignore the cost, but seeking information about the financial aid that is available should be considered part of the college search process that a student conducts. Sometimes students and their parents are amazed to discover that a “dream” college which appeared to be out of reach financially is actually quite affordable because of the generous aid programs that institution offers.
At Colgate, we never would expect a student to make a decision to attend Colgate without providing a full aid package description to those who qualify for financial aid. The aid decision and all the details are included in the same envelope that carries the admission decision itself. This way a student will know as soon as they are offered admission what financial aid we will offer and what we expect the student to contribute. In many cases students will find that attending an independent college or university like Colgate might actually cost less than what they would pay if they were also considering a public college or university and paying in-state tuition.
In summary, of course the costs are going to be a factor for most people, but wait until you see the ACTUAL COST FOR YOU before you rule out any college you have an interest in attending.
Alicia Ortega, Oregon State University
Now more than ever, costs play a huge role in the college search process and will continue to be one of the most important considerations for student and families in years to come. That said, I always encourage students to look at “fit” first before the price-tag since you never know what scholarships and other aid may make an initially more expensive school very reasonable.
Unfortunately, there are lots of myths out there that influence students’ view of college costs. I have included my top three for students to ponder. First, that the more expensive a college is, the higher quality the college is. Although many of the top colleges and universities in the nation happen to be some of the most expensive, that is not to say that more affordable colleges are a “bargain” or second rate. Again, it always goes back to what feels right for the student. Second, the notion that “full-ride” scholarships are abundant and never-ending, especially if you are high achieving, a student of color or student-athlete. Bottom line: scholarships are competitive no matter where you plan to go! Third, and maybe most important is the false rumor that student loans are not financial aid. With rising costs of attendance, reductions in grant and scholarship programs and diminishing support for (public) education, reality is that the majority of students entering college today will need to take out some kind of loan. I honestly believe education is the best investment a student can make in their young life.
Paul Thiboutot, Carleton College
Costs (tuition, room and board) for college should not be ignored but they should not be determinative of an initial set of prospective colleges. The great majority of colleges and universities attempt to make college affordable to any family through financial aid. Since the practice of financial aid also varies greatly from college to college, often one may not know if the costs, even if a truly shocking sticker price, will finally be affordable until one has applied, been accepted and received a financial aid award. I believe the soundest advice is to apply to a variety of colleges, including some that are more affordable, but do not rule out the most expensive until financial aid has not matched your financial need.
A surprise to many families often is that the expectation of loans is often less at the most expensive private colleges because they are more generous in scholarship/grant assistance. Based on a family’s finances, most costs might indeed be covered through a combination of aid packaging, including grants, loans and work-study.
Susan E. Donovan, Syracuse University
While costs are an important factor, it shouldn’t be the first concern. Students shouldn’t eliminate colleges at the outset because of cost. Financial aid, which includes scholarships, grants, state and federal funding as well as various loans, can make many costly schools affordable. Students for whom cost will be a part of the final decision should follow all of the necessary deadlines and procedures for applying for admission and financial aid.
In addition, it may be advisable for these students to apply through regular decision admissions plans so they can compare the overall costs/financial aid awards when a final decision needs to be made.
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