Colleges have never been shy about raising their prices.
This pigheaded practice of increasing tuition well beyond inflation year after year after year helps explains why the U.S. Department of Education recently decided to start naming the worst offenders.
The federal government launched a website with a clunky name — College Affordability and Transparency Center — that aims to out the schools that insist on charging the highest prices (http://collegecost.ed.gov/catc/).
If you visit the federal website, you will find lists of the nation's most expensive public, nonprofit and for-profit schools. The site provides the names of the schools with the highest tuition, as well as the schools with the highest net prices. Before I explain which lists are more valuable, here are the top 10 private schools with the most obscene tuition.
10 Private Schools with the Highest Tuition
- Sarah Lawrence College: $41,968
- Vassar College: $41,930
- George Washington University: $41,655
- Columbia University: $41,316
- Kenyon College: $40,980
- Colgate University: $40,970
- Carnegie Mellon University: $40,920
- Trinity College: $40,840
- Bucknell University: $40,816
- Tulane University: $40,584
In comparison to these 10 schools, the average yearly tuition at private colleges is $21,324. Keep in mind, that the above figures do not include room and board, which easily pushes these schools above the $50,000 mark.
Most Expensive State Universities
If you look at the list of the 10 most expensive public universities, you will discover that state schools from Pennsylvania predominate the list. Penn State University charges the highest tuition ($14,416), followed by the University of Pittsburgh ($14,154) and the University of Vermont ($13,554). In comparison, the average annual tuition at state universities is $6,397.
Also in the top 10 are four satellite branches of Penn State, as well as St. Mary's College of Maryland, New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of New Hampshire.
I don't find published sticker prices, however, all that helpful. That's because most students don't pay this tab. According to federal statistics, about two-thirds of college students receive grants that will help them cut the cost of college. At private colleges and universities, 88 percent of freshmen receive some type of price break.
Schools with the Highest Net Prices
The federal lists that I find more relevant reveal the names of colleges that charge the highest net price.
The net tuition is what families pay after grants and scholarships are subtracted from the bill. When you look at net prices, some of the most expensive schools are far more reasonably priced. That's because the most elite schools, including the Ivy League schools and others at the top of U.S. News & World Report's rankings, provide excellent financial aid. Wealthy families will pay full price at the most elite schools, but nobody else will.
The private institutions that make it onto the list of the highest net tuition are expensive and provide woefully inadequate aid. They are what I like to call high cost/high debt schools. As you'll notice, art and music schools dominate this list.
10 Schools with the Highest Net Tuition
- Art Center College of Design: $39,672
- The New School: $39,004
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago: $38,965
- The Boston Conservatory: $37,798
- California Institute of the Arts: $36,997
- Manhattan School of Music: $36,208
- Rhode Island School of Design: $35,991
- Pratt Institute: $35,506
- Santa Clara University: $35,245
- Northwestern Health Sciences University: $35,062
Beyond the art and music schools, many of the schools on this dubious list are private colleges and universities that are located in East Coast cities. The best known is New York University, which is No. 15. Other Eastern schools include St. Joseph University (11), Simmons College (12), Drew University (13), Northeastern University (25), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (26), Catholic University of America (28), Fordham University (29) and Drexel University (30).
Why are there so many East Coast representatives among the most stingy schools? Here's my guess: location, location, location. Students want to attend schools in or near East Coast cities, and these institutions know it. They can charge more because people will pay it.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is a college consultant, author and speaker. She writes three college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch, U.S. News & World Report and TheCollegeSolutionBlog.com.