The average college tuition cost among public and private institutions keeps increasing at a slow and steady pace each year.
A college's sticker price is the amount advertised as the full rate for tuition and fees before financial need, scholarships and other aid are factored. Net price is the amount that a family pays after aid and scholarships -- usually offsetting the sticker price shock.
Prices at most ranked colleges, including public ones, increased for the 2019-2020 school year, according to data submitted to U.S. News in an annual survey. The average price for in-state tuition and fees at ranked public schools rose by 4%, and the average out-of-state price increased by the same percent. Similar to previous year-over-year increases, the average tuition and fees at private colleges climbed 3%.
But the amount students pay, even when grant aid and tax benefits are factored in, isn't keeping pace with rising sticker prices, higher education analysts say. Students also have to pay for other expenses, such as housing, food and books, which can run thousands of dollars a year.
Seemingly small increases can add up over decades, especially with several years of static or declining wages. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, U.S. median household income is almost the same as it was 20 years ago.
Choice of college contributes to affordability. According to the recent 2019 Sallie Mae survey How America Pays for College, most families weigh financial concerns more heavily than academic needs when selecting a college: Nearly 8 in 10 families say cost governs decision-making.
The average tuition and fees at an in-state public college is about 73% less than the average sticker price at a private college, at $10,116 for the 2019-2020 year compared with $36,801, respectively, U.S. News data shows. Among ranked private colleges, 120 charge sticker prices of at least $50,000 for the current academic year, according to tuition and fees data reported to U.S. News by 785 private institutions. Only a few ranked private colleges and universities -- 61 -- list a full rate price of less than $20,000 for 2019-2020.
One way to determine a college's affordability is by evaluating financial aid award packages. While an institution like Yale University in Connecticut, for instance, advertises a sticker price of more than $55,000 for tuition and fees in 2019-2020, the average cost to students last year after receiving need-based grants was around $17,000.
Since 1993, U.S. News has provided information on the Best Value Schools, which measure academic quality and price, factoring in the net cost of attendance for a student after receiving need-based financial aid, among other cost considerations.
Princeton University is once again the No. 1 Best Value School among National Universities, schools that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. Princeton provided need-based grants to 61% of undergraduates. The highly selective New Jersey school offered an average need-based award of $53,572 to undergraduates in 2018-2019. That amount more than exceeded the school's tuition and fees that year of $47,140; however, students still had to pay other costs, like room and board.
Regional schools, including those that aren't as selective as Princeton, are also generous with need-based financial aid. At McDaniel College, for example, although the school charged $43,260 in tuition and fees last year, 79% of students received need-based grants. The Maryland institution's financial aid awards in 2018-2019 dropped the average net price for students to $19,988.
Below is a map showing the top-ranked Best Value Schools in each of the U.S. News categories: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Colleges and Regional Universities. The latter two categories are further divided into geographic areas: North, South, Midwest and West.
The data above are correct as of Sept. 9, 2019. For complete cost data, full rankings and much more, access the U.S. News College Compass.
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