Don’t Believe the Sticker Price: The Most Expensive Colleges in the Country

This week the U.S. Department of Education released lists of the most expensive state and private colleges and universities in America.
The goal of pointing fingers, which was mandated by Congress, was to shine the spotlight on schools which don’t seem at all ashamed of their high prices. Here’s where you can find all the college lists.
I wasn’t surprised to see that Sarah Lawrence University was the most expensive private school in America. Among state institutions, Penn State was the priciest followed by the University of Pittsburgh, University of Vermont and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which is a rare public liberal arts college.
If you’re curious, I wrote a college blog post for CBS MoneyWatch yesterday that contains the hall of shame list for the priciest private schools here:

The Nation’s 25 Most Expensive Colleges and Universities

I left off the top five schools on the federal list of the most expensive private schools because these liberal arts colleges mistakenly included their room and board charges, but the list was supposed to only rank tuition costs.
The lists that I found far more relevant contained the schools that operated with the highest net prices. These lists showed the most expensive schools after average grants from the federal and state governments and the colleges themselves were subtracted from the sticker price.
I wasn’t surprised that many of the private schools near the top of this more relevant list were art and music related. Many art and music schools are expensive and their financial aid packages are often quite low. Beware if you are an artist or a musician, with few financial resources, who wants to go to one of these specialty schools.

Private Schools With Highest Net Prices

  1. Art Center College of Design  $39,627
  2. The New School   $39,004
  3. School of the Art Institute of Chicago  $38,965
  4. The Boston Conservatory   $37,798
  5. California Institute of the Arts  $36,997
  6. Manhattan School of Music  $36,208
  7. Rhode Island School of Design $35,991
  8. Pratt Institute    $35,506
  9. Santa Clara University $35,245
  10. Northwestern Health Sciences University  $35,062
  11. St. Joseph’s University  $34,548
  12. Simmons College  $34,498
  13. Drew University  $34,379
  14. Beacon College  $34,946
  15. New York University  $34,011

Net Price Calculators Heading Your Way

Net price is far more important than sticker price, but families often don’t understand this. Help, however, is on the way! Beginning in late October every college and university in the country will have to install a net price calculator on their sites.
Some schools already have them up and running. These calculators aren’t going to be perfect but they will provide better information on real pricing than we have now. Here is a story that explains more about net pricing  from the New America Foundation:
Net Price Data Provides Only a Limited Picture of Colleges’ Institutional Aid
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of Shrinking the Cost of College, a workbook available on her website. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. On Twitter follow her @CollegeBlogs.

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  1. Why isn’t University of Michigan on here? My daughter was accepted, as an out-of-state student, to the UofM school of art & design and tuition for the first 2 years, per year, is $38k! It’s more expensive the second 2 years! I think that merits being on the list of most expensive public/state universities, even if in-state tuition is around $4/$5k/year.

  2. Even though, they aren’t private schools, you can soon add ALL of the UCs because tuition is going through the roof!

  3. St. Mary’s College of Maryland being on this list is somewhat misleading. My daughter attends the school from out of state. The out of state tuition charged is much, lower than many state schools charge out of state students (California for example). In fact, St. Mary’s was the only public instituition that awarded my daughter an academic scholarship. She was accepted at other out of state universities, but none of them gave her a scholarship. We don’t qualify for federal aid, but we did need help with covering her tuition. The small class size and very strong academics (she’s a science major) are well worth the tuition. In fact, St. Mary’s was the best value of the public and private schools she was accepted to and fell within the budget we established when we began the college search. It would be a shame for students interested in a liberal arts education to discount this college based upon its ranking on this list.

    1. the figure for art center college is misleading. the school operates on a trimester basis with no summer break. you can get a bachelors degree at a little over 2.5 years. So to compare apples to apples its about 26000 for two semesters like you would get at these other schools.