Archive for Sunday, November 5, 2006

As college costs rise, cheaper options popular

November 5, 2006

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Let's see if I've got this right: Be glad we were kicked in the shins - we might have been kicked in the teeth.

That's the key message in an annual report released by the College Board. It said tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities were up 6.3 percent this year, about twice the inflation rate.

But, happily, that was a smaller increase than in many recent years, the report said. Costs at four-year private schools also rose faster than inflation, as did those at two-year schools.

Total annual charges at private four-year colleges, for the first time, now average more than $30,000, and many top schools charge well over $40,000. Public four-year schools, on average, charge less than $13,000.

Are high costs worth it?

College graduates do make more money than people with only high school diplomas. Last year, median earnings for male college grads were 63 percent higher than for male high school grads, according to another College Board study. For women, the figure was 70 percent.

Beyond that - I tell my son - life is more fun with an education.

Top colleges can charge a fortune simply because students and parents are willing to pay, even if it means every generation goes deeper into hock.

But as costs go up, more and more families will have to select colleges on the basis, at least in part, of cost, and there are plenty of cheaper options. The College Board says 40 percent of full-time undergraduates at four-year institutions are at schools with tuition and fees totaling between $3,000 and $4,000. Another 23 percent are at ones charging $6,000 to $9,000.

Sending a kid to a prestigious school is a real accomplishment.

But lots of happy and successful people have come out of the state schools. At less than a third the cost, maybe they're a better buy.

- Jeff Brown is a business columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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