June 30, 2011
In an effort to be more transparent and hold colleges accountable for rising tuition costs, the Department of Education launched its College Navigator website today that included a list of the nation's most expensive colleges.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the lists were required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Fifty four different lists were created, comprised of six different variables--highest published tuition, highest net price, largest percentage increase in tuition, largest percentage increase in net price, lowest published tuition and lowest net price--and nine different sectors (such as public and private, four-year and two-year).
The goal of the lists is to provide consumers with clear information regarding the cost of college. The hope is that it will also force colleges to keep higher education affordable or be held accountable for significant increases.
"We hope this information will encourage schools to continue their efforts to make costs of college more transparent so students make informed decisions and aren't saddled with unmanageable debt," explained U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan.
CNN Money reported that the most expensive colleges as well as those with sharp tuition increases will be required, by law, to submit reports to the Education Department, explaining why their costs are so high and what they plan to do about it. This is the first time the department has published such a list.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, some of the findings are expected: Sarah Lawrence College had the highest published tuition among private, nonprofit four-year institutions and some of the biggest tuition increases were seen at California State Universities due to budget cuts and tuition hikes, all of which have been reported on by many media outlets across the country.
Though a great idea in theory, Inside Higher Ed questioned just how useful the data will be. Higher education advocates argued that the information may be too complex or may not be an accurate representation due to the fact that it is just a snapshot.
"At the end of the day I think it's good for consumers to have this sort of information," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. "I just hope it's not too complicated to wade through."
David Hawkins, director of public policy and research with the National Association for College Admission Counseling, agreed.
"Data elements related to colleges are just notoriously hard to judge," he said to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Indeed, some pointed out tuition versus net price may be somewhat confusing and students may not know which amount is the better indicator of what they will actually pay. Additionally, the data only takes into account first-time, full-time freshmen so transfer students get little out of the numbers. Sally Stone Richmond, director of admissions at Occidental College also noted that a college's location can further complicate comparisons.
"Like everything else in this country, geography matters," said Richmond. "The cost of running an institution in California, in a city, is measured differently than it would be in a less-expensive part of the country. So their ability to see, in a snapshot, the wide vista of institutions in the U.S. is limited."
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Naughty and Nice on College Price," insidehighered.com, June 30, 2011, Libby A. Nelson
"Uncle Sam calls out steepest college tuition hikes," CNNMoney.com, June 30, 2011, Annalyn Censky
"With New Lists, Federal Government Moves to Help Consumers and Prod Colleges to Limit Price Increases," chronicle.com, June 30, 2011, Beckie Supiano and Elyse Ashburn