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Jul 242013

Sallie Mae, the too-big-to-fail, government-backed lender, recently put out study on how Americans pay for their college educations.  Since the cost of an undergraduate education continues to increase, how students continue to pay for it is important to understand.  Here is a link to the short writeup, and here is a link to the full report.

How Americans Pay for College 2013

How Americans Pay for College 2013. Taken from the short article "How America Pays for College 2013: A national study by Sallie Mae and Ipsos" on the Sallie Mae, Inc. website. Used for educational purposes.

Above is a nice pie chart from the article breaking down the percentages of where the average college student's funding originates.  I find fault with this chart in one area though:  Grants and scholarships do NOT pay for college.  Grants and scholarships are not a funding source.  In my work with my College Price Comparison Tool and as university professor, grants and scholarships are simply fancy words for the discount a college or university gives a student off of their advertised sticker tuition price for the first year.  This discount is primarily based on that student's (and that student's parent's) ability to pay through savings, income, and borrowing.  The sticker tuition price has no more to do with how much people actually pay for college than the sticker price on a vehicle at a used car lot.  And claiming the amount one can talk a smarmy car dealer down as "funding" for a vehicle is simply wrong.  Therefore, a more accurate set of percentages can be found by not considering the dubious category of "grants and scholarships."

With that in mind, here is a chart showing more accurate percentages of where the average college student's funding originates:

Funding sources for the average American student's college education.

Funding sources for the average American student's college education.

Looks a bit different, right?  The big thing I notice is that, in the average case, parents, friends, and relatives will put themselves on the hook for about 60% of the average student's education.  But for the rest, the student is on their own.

As always, find the total price of a four-year college education for every college on your list, before even visiting or applying, by visiting Birdseye College Price Comparison.

May 022013

In an attempt to generate additional traffic for my Birdseye College Price Comparison site, I have added a set of PDF files to the site.  There is one PDF file for each state and the District of Columbia, which contains a list of all of the four-year colleges in the state along with my system's estimated four-year price for the average student starting college this year.  These lists are ordered from lowest price to highest price.  My personalized cost estimates are still going to be superior because they will provide a price range closer to what an individual student will actually pay for their education, but I think these PDF files can provide a useful starting point for students or their parents.

My hope is that these side-by-side average (or net) four-year college price comparisons per state are something that my potential users are interested in.  If you want to take a look at it, here is the link: Side-by-Side Four-Year Average Net College Prices by State.

If this is useful for you, or you have any ideas on what might make it more useful, let me know!  I'm always interested in improvement.

Feb 042013

Birdseye College Price Comparison is the site that I have spent the past few months creating.  The purpose of the site is to provide students first looking at prospective colleges an estimate of what a four-year education at each college they are interested in will cost them personally.  The site provides an estimate of the full cost for four years of tuition, fees, supplies, room, and board.  After just one visit to this site, with as little typing as possible, a student will have a list of the colleges they are interested in ranked by how much a four-year education will cost at each one. Odds of being accepted to each college are provided as well.

Estimating what a student will ultimately be charged by a specific college is challenging.  In the United States, public and private colleges practice widespread price manipulation.  Colleges have a sticker price, the posted tuition amount, but they offer discounts to most students they accept.  The discount offered is often called a scholarship or a grant in the student's acceptance letter, and the discount amount differs from student to student.  For example, students from poor families often get significantly larger discounts than students from rich families.  The discounts can be huge--some students may pay just 10% of the sticker price.  The discounted price, including room, board, fees, and supplies, is often referred to as the "net price."

Over the years colleges have become very good at offering students a net price in their admissions letter that is just under what the student (or their parents) are willing to pay.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to figure out what a college will charge a particular student without applying to that college, which involves filling out forms, writing essays, and paying application fees.  Birdseye College Price Comparison helps by creating an estimate for each individual student based on what students like them have been charged in the past.

Since the 1992/93 school year, the net price charged to a new student to attend one year at a public four-year college rose an average of 5.9% per year.  Over the same time period, the net price charged to a new student to attend one year at a private non-profit four-year college rose an average of 3.6% per year.  (Source: College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2012 report).  And these are increases just for the cost of the first year of schooling.

After their first year, students currently attending a college end up paying more because colleges raise tuition and fees from year-to-year.  The discount that the college gives a student in their first year does not increase to cover the extra amount being charged, so the amount that tuition and fees are increased must be paid by the student.  Tuition and fee increases are a way for a college to extract more revenue out of its existing student body.  At private non-profit four-year colleges, the sticker price rose an average of 6.1% per year since 1992/93.   And those increases are passed directly to students who are currently attending college.

To create a complete price estimate for a four-year education, initial net price offers as well as tuition increases must be factored in.  Birdseye College Price Comparison takes care of all of that for students, first by estimating net price based on what similar students have been charged in the past, and then extrapolating out expected tuition increases for the years necessary to get a degree.  It does all the arithmetic for students, giving them a list of each college they are interested in with an expected price for a complete degree.  That way, a student can decide if a degree from one college is really worth an extra $100,000 over a degree from another.

Don't waste your time applying to colleges that cost too much.  Give Birdseye College Price Comparison a try, and start narrowing your college search today!