How a $54K-Per-Year School Is Deemed a ‘Best Value College’

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The private universities listed in a new “Best Value Colleges” roundup run $54,200 annually for tuition, fees, books, and room and board. That sounds pretty expensive, and it is. Could it also represent a good value? What if students actually paid less than half the list price? In fact, that’s what the majority of students do. And that’s how these schools wind up being highlighted for providing good bang for the buck. Princeton’s latest edition of its “Best Value Colleges” features 150 schools—75 private and 75 public. As you’d expect, the average cost at the public institutions is a fraction of their private counterparts. USA Today sums up the key data on all of the “best value” colleges here, showing not only the “sticker price,” but the actual price paid by the average student: Their total annual cost of attendance, including tuition and fees, room and board and books and supplies, averaged $19,500 for freshmen attending public universities in their home state, and $54,200 for those going to private schools. When freshman grants, including state, federal and institutional aid, are factored into the cost, the final tab drops to $10,600 at public universities and $21,700 at private universities. (MORE: 10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of College Financial Aid) Those are some serious Black Friday-type markdowns, especially for the private schools—the equivalent of about 60% off. While the recent failed flat pricing experiment from JCPenney is the latest example demonstrating how consumers just plain love sales—even if they obviously manipulate shoppers—the original and actual college pricing figures can be puzzling. Because almost no one pays full price, students and their families should essentially be disregarding published tuition rates. Which raises the question: Why do these published rates exist to begin with? Well, as mentioned, the inflated “sticker price” can make the discounted, post-grant rate seem like quite the deal to students who’d consider a pricey school off the table. Also, there is a portion of students from well-off families at every college that do indeed pay full price. Even

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