Wow! Such a big question! Let’s start by making a key distinction:
(1) One might interpret this question as, “How much does a university charge the student and parents?” Allowing for such significant complications as different sticker prices at different universities, different financial aid packages for different students at the same university, different fees for different majors, additional charges (primarily from rising tuition prices) in the sophomore, junior and senior years – it is nonetheless the case that, when the incoming freshman arrives on campus, he or she (and the parents) know fairly accurately what their out-of-pocket costs will be, at least for the first year. So while this is an important question, and answering it can be confusing and time-consuming, in the end it is answerable. But consider the second alternative.
The New York Times published an article by Catherine Rampell on Sept. 24 titled “Freebies for the Rich.” (Another version of the same article was published in the Times Sunday magazine on Sept. 29.)
In the article, Ms. Rampell points out that, at public universities, the share of aid devoted to “merit” has tripled, to 29 percent, over the past two decades. She also points out that metrics used to determine merit, such as SAT scores, are closely correlated with family income: whereas only one student in 10 receives merit aid in families earning less than $30,000, one student in five receives merit aid in families earning over $250,000.
In Part I of this post, we discussed how the “high cost/high aid” model of price and cost in higher education has led to growing educational debt and a widening achievement gap between affluent and low-income students. This week, we’ll talk about how (and why) to change this model.
But first: consider the following hypothetical conversation between an admissions officer and two prospective students, as he explains the college’s financial aid policy: