Finding the Best (and Worst) Deals in College Tuition

College Campus
College Campus

Putting their kids through college is something most parents expect will cost them a bundle -- and it does. Just take a look at the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency website, which launched Thursday. It gives the lowdown on tuition and fees, the net cost of college, and trends on tuition rates for pubic and private colleges and universities across the nation.

But amid the sticker-shock-inducing figures coming from such institutions as Bates College, which is listed as charging $51,300 annually for tuition and fees, parents and college-bound students may be equally shocked to find options at the other end of the spectrum like Webb Institute, which offers all of its students a tuition-free ride. The deal with Webb, however, is it only offers one major: Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

Both of these colleges are not-for-profit, private four-year institutions and rank as the most and least expensive, respectively, in their categories. According to The New York Times, a Bates official took umbrage at the figures, noting its reported costs also included room and board.

Parents taking their first looks at the college will rapidly discover that not-for-profit colleges tend to cost substantially more than private, for-profit institutions, and both of those are far more costly than public institutions. The national average for tuition and fees at not-for-profit institutions costs $21,324 during the 2009-10 school year, versus $15,661 at for-profit private institutions and $6,397 at public four-year colleges.


Digging a little bit deeper reveals that Pennsylvania holds six of the top 10 spots on the list of most expensive public institutions. Driving most of those listings are Pennsylvania State University schools. Penn State's main campus ranked No. 1 among the most expensive four-year public colleges for tuition and fees.

On the other extreme, the top two least expensive four-year public colleges are Haskell Indian Nations University and Dine College, which are both among of the nation's 36 Indian tribal colleges. At Haskell, where tuition and fees run $430 a year, the college focuses on preparing its students for leadership in politics to the economy in the context of tribal, regional, national and international matters.

The University of Puerto Rico's schools also held multiple slots on the list of the 10 least expensive public, four-year colleges, with annual fees and tuition ranging from $1,320 to $2,008.

Artistry Is Expensive

The most expensive for-profit colleges also have a common theme: art. Among them: Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, with its $38,200 in annual fees and tuition, AI Miami International University of Art and Design, which charges $30,550, and the Art Institute colleges, which range from $30,259 to $32,342.

One of the more painful revelations in the data is the rapid rate at which college cost are rising. Northern New Mexico College, for example, posted a 51% jump in its price tag from the 2007-2008 school year to the 2009-2010 school year. State colleges in California held six of the top 10 spots among four-year public universities and colleges, posting hikes in excess of 40%.

The increases are even steeper at some private colleges and universities. For-profit colleges and universities saw their tuitions jump dramatically, with a 99% increase for Everest University-Largo in Florida and 68% for Brown Mackie College in Fort Wayne, Ind. And among not-for-profit colleges, Wells College in New York, posted a 67% increase.

It's worth noting, however, that the institutions with the greatest increases in percentage terms were generally those with lower tuition to start. Those bargain schools are being forced by economics to start catching up with their higher priced competition.