Cost of Tuition at Colleges Breasts $50,000 a Year

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The New York Sun

More than 5,000 New York University and Columbia freshmen arriving for their first days of school yesterday seemed to be having a good time, and they should be — some parents are paying more than $50,000 a year for their children to enjoy the privilege.

NYU now costs $50,182, including room and board, up 5.9% from last year. Columbia is slightly more expensive at $51,866.

Crossing the $50,000 a year threshold, both universities are keeping with the upward tuition trend at nearly all institutions of higher education. NYU’s total cost — tuition, room, and board — has gone up 65% in the past decade.

Last year, public four-year institutions saw an average tuition increase of 6.6% from 2006, according to the College Board. Tuition at private four-year institutions tuitions rose 6.3%, the College Board said.

In 1990, a degree from Columbia University cost $20,000 — $14,472 without room and board. The average tuition for a four-year private college in 1990 was $9,391. Measured in gold, the increase has been less dramatic — in 1990, $20,000 was worth 50 ounces of gold. Today, $50,000 is worth 55 1/2 ounces of gold.

Today, despite the fact that the majority of students receive some kind of financial aid — at least three-fourths of full-time undergraduates, according to the College Board — the price runs the risk of making these popular schools seem increasingly unreachable. A professor of public policy, education, and economics at NYU, Amy Ellen Schwartz, said: “People get sticker shock. And the farther away you are from the university, the more likely you are to get sticker shock.”

Sticker shock, for many Americans, might mean believing that any college education is out of the question. “They don’t understand that while Williams will cost an arm and a leg, Borough of Manhattan Community College won’t,” Ms. Schwartz said.

At CUNY, where the freshman class was 33,000 students last year, tuition is $4,000 a year. “The tuition has been the same price for four or five years,” the director of communications at CUNY, Michael Arena, said. Despite the comparatively low price, Mr. Arena said that “most of our students are on financial aid.” And at Macaulay Honors College, one of 19 colleges in the CUNY system, students go entirely for free.

For some parents, a diploma from a top university remains a worthwhile investment. Jaqueline Hirsch, of Plano, Texas, is now paying for her son Jordan’s junior year at Columbia. “If I knew it was $50,000 and he was starting this year, we would still pony up,” Mrs. Hirsch, somewhat grateful that she’s paying approximately $45,000, said. “We would do it because of the reputation of the school. And because Jordan’s wanted to go to Columbia since he was in 10th grade.”

The family has chosen to cut out other luxuries — such as vacations — to pay the costs and to start to save for graduate school, she said: “We bit the bullet. It’s the size of a mortgage for a very nice house around here.”

At Columbia, room and board costs $9,980 a year. NYU charges still more at about $12,000. At Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. — hardly prime real estate — room and board costs $11,690.

“What is true about understanding the college market, is that the economics are very complicated,” Ms. Schwartz said. In fact, some of the most expensive, top universities might actually be offering a good deal. “In the more expensive universities the actual value of the education spending is even more than tuition.”

“If you ask me, is it worth $50,000? You probably get $100,000 worth of education at somewhere like Yale,” Ms. Schwartz said.

This year, Harvard’s tuition is $47,215, not including the estimated $3,000 cost for personal expenses, according to that university’s Web site. Princeton stands at $45,695, and Cornell at $50,384. And though Penn’s $51,300 appears the highest of the Ivies, it’s actually a relative bargain: The price includes meals, books, and $2,000 of personal expenses.

The New York Sun

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