By Lauren Musu-Gillette
For many students and their families, a college education is seen as an investment in the future. But like all investments, the initial sacrifices can seem burdensome and the future is uncertain. NCES seeks to help students and their families make good decisions by providing access to timely information about the price of college and the availability of financial aid. The NCES College Navigator web site provides an array of search tools to help students locate institutions that meet their financial needs and academic interests. Additionally, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires the U.S. Department of Education to report current information and recent changes in net prices for college attendance, and tuition and fees charges at different types of institutions. Data on high and low cost institutions are published on the College Affordability and Transparency Center website. These sites can help students and their families make informed decisions about their most affordable options.
NCES recently released a report that examines the total, net, and out-of-pocket prices by type of institution in 2011-12. Although it is presented for institutions at an aggregate level, rather than for individual institutions, this report provides valuable information on the average prices for different types of degree-granting colleges, including breakdowns for students from families with different income levels. Overall, students at public 2-year colleges had the lowest average total price of attendance in 2011-12 at $15,000. Public 4-year institutions had the lowest average total price ($23,200) among 4-year colleges, and the average price of attendance at 4-year for-profit institutions was $29,300. The average total price was highest at private non-profit 4-year institutions ($43,500); however, 4-year private nonprofit schools also awarded the most grant money and had the greatest percentage of students who received grants.
Factoring in financial aid, such as grants, loans, and work study, reduces the out-of-pocket costs that students and their families pay at various institutions. As a result, many full-time students pay less than the advertised total price of attendance. The out-of-pocket net price of attendance is based on the total price of attendance, but also accounts for the amount of grant and loan aid that students typically receive. Additionally, because many sources of aid are based on students’ financial need, there are differences in the out-of-pocket net price of attendance for dependent students from lower and higher income families.
Overall, students at public 2-year colleges had the lowest out-of-pocket net price (after grants and loans) at $9,900 in 2011-12. The average out-of-pocket net price was $11,800 at public 4-year institutions and $15,000 at for-profit institutions. The largest difference between total price of attendance and out-of-pocket net price was at private nonprofit 4-year institutions, with the out-of-pocket net price ($18,100) being about $25,400 less than the average total price.
Across all types of institutions, dependent students from lower income families (the lowest quarter of family incomes) had the lowest out-of-pocket net price. The average out-of-pocket net price for students from lower income families was $7,500 at public 2-year institutions, $7,100 at public 4-year institutions, $11,000 at private nonprofit institutions, and $15,000 at private for-profit institutions. In contrast, students from families in the top quarter of incomes had average out-of-pocket costs of $13,100 at public 2-year institutions, $16,800 at public 4-year institutions, $26,600 at private nonprofit institutions, and $22,300 at private for-profit institutions.
For more information on the total, net, and out-of-pocket prices by type of institution, please download the entire report: What is the Price of College: Total, Net, and Out-of-Pocket Prices by Type of Institution in 2011-12, or watch the video below.