Comparing the Cost - Public vs. Private

Many parents of college-bound students see the “sticker price” at private colleges and grab their chests when tuition and fees are quoted at $30,000 or even $35,000 for one year. It’s true that the total cost of education at some private institutions is well over $120,000, a daunting financial hurdle for a bachelor’s degree. In comparison, while the cost of public colleges and universities is increasing even for in-state students, public institutions still seem, at first blush, to provide a more affordable education. But there’s more to the equation of tuition at public colleges vs. private colleges than just sticker price, so the question of what’s really affordable may sometimes have a surprising answer.

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When it comes to paying for college, tuition is just the beginning. Your total cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, lab fees, student membership fees, spending money and other miscellaneous expenses.

The real cost of college
Cost per year 2-year public college 4-year private college 4-year public college
Tuition: $2,076 $20,082 $5,132
Additional Out-of-District State Charges N/A N/A $7,291
Books & Supplies: $773 $870 $853
Room & Board: $5,747 $6,617 $6,222
Transportation: $1,146 $1,031 $1,109
Other Expenses : $1,608 $1,524 $1,659
Total: $11,350 $30,124 $22,266

Source: Annual Survey of Colleges, The College Board, New York, NY, 2004-2005 (Enrollment-Weighted)

Even though the price of private school is usually higher than public school charges, don’t be scared of applying. Private schools have generous financial aid packages and scholarship opportunities. Private colleges and universities have more money to support their students. So at the end result private school may cost you the same as public institution.

Another issue should be underlined here that could influence your budget. The problem is time. Thanks to the wave of students now swamping college campuses, public colleges cannot guarantee your classes will be available so you can graduate in four years. Even if you are diligent, it can take five years to complete a four-year education.

The University of California at Davis is a good example of how overcrowded campuses are becoming. UC Davis set two records this year – most freshmen (5511) and most enrollment (40,475). The school did everything possible and ended up adding more than 100 classes, hiring more instructors, adding different teaching facilities, and even converting 405 dorm units from doubles to triples. Is it enough? You won’t know until you try to register for classes.

Parents and students who do their homework will find that there is more financial aid available than ever before - over $122 billion in 2004-2005 according to The College Board. Financial aid is designed to supplement the difference between what you and your family can afford to pay (your Expected Family Contribution) and what college actually costs. Currently, over half the students enrolled in college receive some form of financial aid, including loans, grants, work-study programs and scholarships. By studying your options, you'll find that a college education is certainly within reach.

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