Why State Universities Aren’t Always a Bargain

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If you’ve been a regular visitor to my college blog, you know that college price tags are meaningless. A $50,000 college, for example, could cost some families less than a $25,000 school.

More families in my state of California are beginning to realize this. I bet that’s why expensive private schools such as Whitman College, Colgate University and Swarthmore College reported seeing large increases in the number of Californians applying last year.

I suspect that the number of Californians and residents of other states who apply to private colleges and universities may grow even more during this college admission season.  With tuition at public universities rising across the country as state government support continues to collapse, parents are figuring out that private schools may just cost them the same or even less because private schools are more likely to give them tuition discounts.

You can read a story about this phenomenon via this Sacramento Bee article:

Private Schools Can Beat UC Costs

For this trend, my family could serve as Exhibit A.  My son, for instance, attends Beloit College, which costs $42,000 for tuition and room/board. I am paying about half of that cost, in part, due to a merit scholarship that the liberal arts school awarded Ben. The fact that I have two children in college this year also helped me qualify me for some need-based aid.

In contrast, if my son had attended a University of California campus, we wouldn’t have qualified for any price breaks. For example, if my son had attended UC Berkeley, (my husband’s alma mater), we would have paid the $27,770 tuition and room/board.

As it turned out, my son is attending a school where his biggest introductory class is about 20 kids instead of 400 or 500 students. Ben has a better chance of graduating in four years than he would if he had attended any public university in California, including Berkeley and UCLA. He’s working hard, he’s learning a lot and he’s very happy.

Wouldn’t one of those MasterCard commercials call that priceless?

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and She also writes a college blog for  CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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