List For College Costs Puts Pa. Among The Priciest
STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania has some of the most expensive universities in the country, according to a U.S. Education Department website, though there are relative bargains in our backyard.
East Stroudsburg University fared considerably better in the cost survey than Penn State or several private universities.
The White House posted a link – at whitehouse. gov/scorecard – to the department's interactive college scorecard after President Barack Obama called during his State of the Union address for educational institutions to do a better job of holding down costs.
The website, which also can be accessed at collegecost. ed.gov, has an interactive feature to look up college costs and graduation rates for individual universities, or lists of the most and least expensive higher education institutions in the U.S.
Prospective students and their parents also can search for colleges and universities based on size, geography and major program offerings.
Penn State No. 1
Penn State's main campus at University Park in State College has the highest tuition – $15,250 – of any fouryear public university in the country, according to 2010-11 rates surveyed.
Several PSU branch campuses also rank in the top 30, along with the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University.
Penn State did marginally better _ fourth-most expensive among public fouryear schools, at $19,816 _ when factoring in the cost of books and room and board, while subtracting average grants awarded.
Those high costs are clearly linked to declining state government support, PSU spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
“Penn State's appropriation is substantially less today than it was in 2000,” Powers said. “In fact, the amount of appropriation proposed for this year is the same level of funding that we received in 1996, when we were educating about 15,000 fewer students.”
Last year's PSU tuition hike was the lowest in 45 years, Powers said.
No Pennsylvania school made the nation's list of the 65 least expensive public four-year institutions.
But East Stroudsburg University's individual profile places its 2009 average total annual cost of $12,158 on the low end of the scale.
Nearly 59 percent of fulltime students received degrees within six years, and ESU's federal student loan default rate of 5.6 percent is considerably lower than the 13.4 percent national average.
About 29 percent of ESU students are from out of state, particularly New Jersey and New York, yet ESU is cost- competitive compared to schools there, Admissions Director Jeff Jones said.
“There is a specialness about this institution you don't find in most places,” Jones said. “There is loyalty.”
About 75 percent of ESU students receive financial aid, Registrar Kizzy Morris said. ESU works individually with families on financial aid options even before students apply for admission, she said.
Morris and Jones agreed the college cost website is useful, but said it also is important to visit campuses to compare program quality and cost.
Students who receive a scholarship as freshmen need to be aware that total costs will rise once the scholarship is depleted, Jones said.
“Students are just so happy to be receiving a scholarship, they aren't looking at the fine print,” Jones said. “It's just not there in the second, third or fourth year.”
ESU costs compare favorably with those of two other schools in the Pennsylvania higher education system: Kutztown University's average net cost was pegged at $13,196, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania's average cost was $14,892.
An ESU student typically borrowed $17,953 in federal loans during undergraduate years, compared to $19,500 at Kutztown and Indiana.
Several private four-year institutions in Pennsylvania also rank among the nation's most expensive, according to the Education Department site.
Bucknell had the seventh highest private school tuition in the country – $42,342 – and Carnegie Mellon University was 10th with a tuition of $42,136.
Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg and Haverford colleges and the University of Pennsylvania ranked among the top 50 for highest tuition.
None of those private Pennsylvania schools ranked among the most costly, however, when factoring in room and board, books and financial aid.
St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia ranked 14th among private schools nationwide with total average net costs of $34,894. This is despite awarding financial aid to 94 percent of its students.
Muhlenberg College in Allentown ranked 44th in total net costs, at $30,410, despite awarding aid to 75 percent of students.
The University of Scranton didn't make the list of most expensive schools, despite having a net annual cost to undergraduate students of $29,475. Families typically borrowed $25,000 in federal loans, though Scranton students only have a 2.5 percent loan default rate, and 77 percent graduate within six years.
“We realize there is an expense to the education,” University of Scranton spokesman Stan Zygmunt said. “There's also a quality to it.”
Scranton graduates place high in medical school placements and do quite well in the job market, Zygmunt said.
Check the data
The importance of educational value was echoed by Lehigh University spokeswoman Jennifer Tucker. It costs $24,510 annually to attend the Bethlehem school, but nearly 87 percent of enrolled students graduate and less than 2 percent default on loans.
“Value is what we're hearing is most important to students and parents,” Tucker said, pointing to strong Lehigh programs, a favorable job placement rate and diversity of students.
“At the end of the day, you want the students who are the best and the brightest across the board,” Tucker said.
Tucker and Zygmunt described the education website information as helpful, but limited in understanding the full value of a school.
Kings College Admissions Director Jim Anderson said the information appears to be outdated and inaccurate, which could discourage students from attending the Wilkes-Barre school.
Visitors to the education site should be able to link to the school sites of the institutions being researched, Anderson said. Two companies that supplied the education department data don't appear to contact universities directly to verify the information, he added.