Experts Say - Sometimes College Tuition Data Can Be Misleading

Jun 20, 2012

Connecticut College has the highest tuition in the nation among private, not-for-profit four-year colleges, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. But experts say sometimes statistics can be misleading.  

The College Affordability and Transparency Center website is part of President Obama’s push to make the costs of higher education more transparent. Schools are ranked in several categories, including tuition sticker price, and net cost to families.

Haley Chitty is a spokesman for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.  

"Determining the out-of-pocket cost of college is a real challenge. And for several reasons, one being that it is highly individualized. So it's very rare that two students, even at the same institution, the same program, pay the same amount for college."

That’s because there are so many different scholarships and sources of financial aid.  Chitty says Connecticut College may have been highlighted as the most expensive four year not-for-profit, "...but if you look at the net price list, you’ll notice that the college isn’t on that list. So that says to me that they are providing substantial financial aid packages and the average student isn’t paying that list price."

Two other Connecticut colleges – Quinnipiac University and Sacred Heart University - made it into the top 55 highest net price list. 

Rae Goldsmith of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education says colleges should be held accountable for communicating clearly what students are expected to pay, but she says rankings shouldn’t drive an individual decision about attending a particular school.  

"Because it's about more than just what you read out there. It's about the fit of the institution, the outcomes that it offers the students."

Both Goldsmith and Chitty support increased transparency about the cost of college, one of the largest purchases a family will make.