Is That Flagship Worth the Price?

I wrote yesterday about the hazards of attending high-priced private colleges and universities that can’t support their students with solid financial aid packages. If you missed the post, here it is:

Attending Expensive East Coast Universities

I think one reason why students gravitate to pricey schools on the East Coast is because they don’t put much effort into finding wonderful schools that aren’t on everyone’s wish list. Many assume wrongly that if few people have heard of a school, it must not be any good.

The Allure of the Flagships

Many private schools located in East Coast cities tend to be better known. So too are public flagship universities. Which is why I’d argue that when teenagers broaden their search beyond private schools located back East or public universities in their own states, they tend to focus on flagships elsewhere.
Those out-of-state flagships, however, can be just as perilous financially. In fact, even more so. A case in point is the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which was on the wish list of some of the students that I talked to last week in New York City. The cost of tuition and room/board at Michigan for out-of-state residents in 2011-2012 school year is $48,040! Toss in books and travel and families could easily be facing a $50,000 tab.

University of Michigan’s Dubious Honor

According to a survey conducted by US News & World Report, the University of Michigan was the most expensive state school for nonresidents during 2010-2011 school year. The rest of the public universities that made the top 10 priciest state schools for nonresidents were the University of Virginia and eight University of California campuses including Berkeley and UCLA.
Prestigious state schools are charging high prices because they can. Plenty of wealthy families are willing to pay the tab because of the prestige of going to a school like the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, University of North Carolina or Michigan. Unfortunately, some students heading to these flagships can’t afford the cost and will face scary debt loads just to earn a diploma from a school with a marquee name.
Flagships crave this easy money because state governments have been reducing their financial support to dangerous levels. Finding out-of-state sugar daddies is one way to survive financially.
I wrote a story for my college blog over at CBS MoneyWatch that I’d urge you to read. I include the experience of a dad, who works at Columbia University, whose daughter had planned to attend the University of Michigan in the fall. She attended the new student orientation this summer before her dad noticed that he had misread the bill. Here’s the post:

10 Most Expensive State Universities for Outsiders

Bottom Line:

If you can afford to spend $50,000 for a state university, go for it if you think these schools offer the best education. For everybody else, however, there’s got to be more affordable alternatives.
I’ll have more on this topic tomorrow.
In the meantime, does anybody think a flagship is worth paying $50,000 a year? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of  Shrinking the Cost of College workbook.  She also writes a college blog for  CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. I have a hard time believing that a flagship is worth $50,000/year. I believe there is a lot of research that shows it’s not the school, but the person that makes a difference. I think there is a lot of hype in education, maybe that is the next bubble that will burst.

    1. HI Kate,
      Thanks for your comment ! I agree with you. I wouldn’t pay $50,000 for a flagship no matter how impressive its name. I wouldn’t pay $50,000 for a private school either.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. I agree with you. Paying $50,000 for any school is not going to happen in our family. I plan to keep it at half of that or less.

        1. Kate — I agree with you. If everybody took that attitude, I think we’d see these prices at least level off or drop.
          Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      2. “I wouldn’t pay $50,000 for a flagship no matter how impressive its name. I wouldn’t pay $50,000 for a private school either.”
        We already figured that out from your writings.

    2. Would you happen to know the research (specific citations) that shows this? I believe you are on to something, I am very interested to learn more about this!