How To Find The True Cost Of College

The price of college never seems simple to calculate. There’s tuition plus room and board, minus scholarships, plus random fees, minus financial aid, and on top of that, colleges are always changing those numbers.

But good news for your migraine – The U.S. Education Department recently stepped into the college rankings business to release a public Web site that lists the most and least expensive college, along with those with the steepest tuition hikes, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The new site, seeks to create more transparency around the net price of colleges, giving prospective students honest and accessible information on tuition, aid, completion rates and selectivity.

Many colleges publish tuition figures or net prices – which are supposed to be the actual cost of college; however, they don’t always include administrative fees and other small costs. Colleges will try to trick students by tacking on extra costs, squeezing more money out of them. Tuition and financial aid can make it more difficult to determine an accurate cost.

This site, which was mandated by federal law, adds to a large database of federal information on colleges and education. However, most of the previous federal data is not public and only available to researchers.

Colleges will also be mandated to post net price calculators on their Web sites by fall 2011, giving prospective students and their parents exact, comprehensive numbers on how much they will actually pay to attend.

Bates College in Maine ranked as the most expensive private colleges in 2009-10, with tuition, at $51,300.  But, school officials say that the figure is exaggerated because the school’s annual fee includes living expenses. Bates doesn’t charge for tuition separately, and if it did, it would not rank as the nation’s most expensive school

 “And therein lies another story, in that this particular list has an important apples-and-oranges aspect, inviting readers to compare comprehensive fees to tuition and fees only, with only an asterisk to note the significant difference between those two bases of comparison,” Roland Adams, spokesman for the college told the Washington Post. “Bates’ comprehensive fee is a statement of our total charges, and if all the schools listed were required to present that, there would undoubtedly be quite a different order of ranking overall.”