The 10 most expensive colleges money can buy

If you or your college-bound kid wants to attend Sarah Lawrence, Wesleyan, Columbia or another prestigious private university, prepare for some serious sticker shock.

The three institutions are among the top five most expensive schools for the 2010-11 academic year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education's analysis of data released by the College Board, the nonprofit best known as the administrator of the SAT.

More concerning, 100 higher education institutions in the U.S. are charging $50,000-plus for tuition, fees, room and board this academic year, up from 58 last academic year. Among the universities with the new $50,000-plus price tag: the University of Notre Dame, MIT and Providence College in Rhode Island, which had a 14.9% increase in price, the biggest percentage increase amongst the $50,000-plus institutions.

All but one of the 100 is private, according to the Chronicle, with the University of California at Berkeley, charging $50,649 for out-of-state residents, being the exception.

The average price for tuition and fees at a private, four-year college is $27,293, according to the College Board. That's a 4.5% increase from the 2009-10 academic year, above the typical 3% annual increase. In-state tuition and fees are also up for four-year public universities by 7.9%.

Sandy Baum, independent policy analyst for the College Board and co-author of the 2010 Trends in Higher Education Series, says increases are due in part to higher health care costs, the rising price of skilled labor and increased spending to approve amenities.

Paying $50,000 or more for a year at school may seem like a lot, particularly in this economy, but delve beneath the numbers and there's more to the story. Psychologically, the significantly higher number of schools charging $50,000-plus is startling, but most of these universities have been flirting with that sticker price for a while and are crossing into $50,000 territory now only as a result of steady upward increases, Baum says.

And thanks to financial aid, including a nearly $10 billion leap in aid for the Federal Pell Grant Program, Baum says "the average net price is nowhere near $50,000."

That said, these schools aren't cheap, but schools like Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., the most expensive school on the Chronicle's list, are worth the expense, argues president Karen Lawrence. In an e-mail, Lawrence cites the liberal arts school's 9:1 student-faculty ratio and the assignment of a personal mentor for each student as justifications.

"As a result of this distinctive educational model, students graduate from Sarah Lawrence with immense confidence in their ability to understand issues, look at problems from all angles and create unexpected solutions," Lawrence wrote.

Regardless of higher tuition, for the most prestigious schools, "there are long lines of people willing to pay the price," Baum says.

Here are the lists of the top 10 most expensive higher education institutions for tuition, fees, room and board, and the top 10 most expensive higher education institutions for tuition and fees alone.

Highest tuition, fees, room and board for 2010-11, and percentage increase from previous year:
  1. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y.: $57,384, a 2.9% increase.
  2. Landmark College, Putney, Vt.: $56,500, up 4.8%.
  3. Columbia University School of General Studies, New York: $54,782, up 5.5%.
  4. Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn.: $53,976, up 4.9%
  5. Columbia University, New York: $53,874, up 4.5%.
  6. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore: $53,690, up 3.9%.
  7. Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.: $53,591, up 2.7%.
  8. New York University, New York: $53,589, up 3.1%.
  9. Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, Calif.: $53,588, up 4.8%.
  10. Barnard College, New York: $53,496, up 5%.
Highest tuition and fees for 2010-11, and percentage increase from previous year:
  1. Landmark College, Putney, Vt.: $48,000, up 4.8%.
  2. Connecticut College, New London, Conn.: $43,900, up 3.9%.
  3. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y.: $43,564, up 3.8%.
  4. Columbia University, New York: $43,304, up 4.8%.
  5. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: $43,190, up 3%.
  6. George Washington University, Washington, D.C.: $42,905, up 3%.
  7. Wesleyan University, Middleton, Conn.: $42,384, up 4.9%.
  8. Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.: $42,370, up 3.7%.
  9. Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa.: $42,342, up 3.7%.
  10. St. John's College, Annapolis, Md. and Santa Fe, N.M.: $42,192, up 4.5%.
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