Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh top the nation in terms of annual college tuition for public four-year universities, according to data released on Thursday by the Education Department. The annual tuition and fees at those schools, without room and board costs, were over $14,000 in 2009, when the agency collected the data.
In terms of raw tuition and fees, Pennsylvania campuses dominated the department’s list of the top 5 percent of colleges’ annual tuitions among public four-year universities. Other schools on that list were the University of Vermont ($13,554), St. Mary’s College of Maryland ($13,234), and New Jersey Institute of Technology ($12,856).
That is not the whole story, however. The Education Department also collected data on the “net price” of one year of college--their best estimate of what students (or rather, parents) actually pay out of pocket for one year of college. The net price figure includes average room and board expenses and subtracts any grants or scholarship aid to students. By that measure, the University of Texas Health Science Center ($24,192) and the University of Guam ($23,902) top the list. Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh are still on the list of top five most expensive among public four-year schools.
The data is part of a new College Affordability and Transparency Center website run by the Education Department that is intended to give families more information about the actual cost of college. Schools on the top-5-percent lists will be required to give the federal government additional data about their fees. Education Department officials say the data collection effort isn’t meant to be punitive, but it will help them figure out what’s going on with the cost of college.
Educators and policymakers have struggled over the last several years with the escalating cost of college. It has become a more heated conversation as the economy has struggled to recover from the 2008 recession and President Obama is making it a top priority to boost college graduation rates.
The Education Department's new website is the culmination of a provision in the 2008 Higher Education Act. Even before the economic collapse, college costs also were a concern for lawmakers. “The issue of college affordability and the increasing cost of college has been an ongoing bipartisan concern on the [House] Education and the Workforce Committee,” said ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., who was the primary author of the bill. "With this website, for the first time ever, families will have detailed information that will allow them to make smart, informed decisions about college.”
Among private four-year colleges, annual tuitions at Bates College in Maine, Connecticut College, and Middlebury College in Vermont, topped out at more than $50,000 per year. Those figures are slightly inflated, however, because those colleges include room and board as part of their tuition. (Full disclosure: Bates College is my alma mater, lo many years ago, and I can attest that the dorms are much nicer now than they were when I attended.)
New York colleges Sarah Lawrence and Vassar, however, can’t make the claim that their tuition price guarantees room and board. Those two private schools’ annual tuition nears $42,000, according to the department’s data.
And just in case anyone is wondering about the cheapest places to go, the Education Department’s website offers that, too. Among four-year public universities, Kansas’s Haskell Indian Nations University has the lowest annual tuition at $403, while Arizona’s Dine College is in second place at $805.
People looking for community colleges, two-year degrees, or certificate programs also can find listings of the highest- and lowest-priced schools in those markets, and the department has collected data on the colleges with the fastest-growing tuitions and net costs.