The Real Cost of Attending an Expensive East Coast University

Yesterday I wrote about college coop programs that link students up with jobs while they are still students. Here is the post:
Do You Need a Coop Program To Get a Job?
What I am far more interested in sharing is what these and other private universities, many of which are located on the East Coast, cost. I’m going to use Drexel as an example because my blog reader had asked about that school that’s located in Philadelphia.
I’d argue that Drexel is an example of a high-cost, high-debt university. You can learn about this phenomenon in an excellent article entitled, The Prestige Racket, that Daniel Luzer wrote in the Washington Monthly a few months ago.  Luzer focused on George Washington University in the article, but he mentioned American University and New York University as examples of this phenomenon.  I’d toss Drexel and Northeastern, another coop school, into this unenviable category.

Why These Schools Are So Expensive

Schools like Drexel, GWU, NYU and others have jacked up the price of their schools while not providing enough financial aid for many of its students. One reason why they can do this is because they are located in East Coast cities. Students across the country want to go to school in places like Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York City.
The vast majority of teenagers who want to attend schools in big cities aren’t going to have the academic profile to get into the most elite schools with urban zip codes such as University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Harvard, but they can get into schools like Drexel and NYU.  If NYU was in the Ozarks it couldn’t get away with charging a high tuition, while giving low financial assistance.

Rankings Perversion

These schools can also get away with being expensive because US News & World Report’s college rankings doesn’t punish them for being unaffordable.  In fact, the magazine’s rankings methodology perversely rewards colleges for spending money, but they don’t bestow demerits for being unaffordable. I would urge you to read the blog post that I wrote about it here:

Blaming College Rankings for Runaway College Costs

When looking at the the sort of financial aid statistics that are commonly  available on the Internet for individual schools, I had a hard time finding them for Drexel. One stat that I always like to look at is the average indebtedness at graduation for students at a particular school. To find that I called up Drexel’s profile on the College Board and then I clicked its Cost & Financial Aid link. Drexel declined to divulge this figure, which can be a sign that the school is not generous.
Schools with lower debt levels are typically going to be eager to share this figure. Across the country, the average student graduates from colleges with $23,000 in student loans. Beyond this figure, Drexel also didn’t divulge any statistics about financial aid on the College Board site.
Next I headed over to the federal College Navigator, which is the federal US Department of Education massive database of statistics on colleges and universities. I had better luck there. On Drexel’s profile, I found the typical costs for Drexel students of different income levels:

Drexel University’s Average Net Price

Family Income

  • $0-$30,000                        $33,888
  • $30,001 – $48,000           $34,694
  • $48,001 – $75,000            $37,532
  • $75,001 – $110,000          $36,731
  • $110,001 and up                $37,574

What’s stunning about the above figures is that poor and middle-class students pay close to the same price as affluent families! This is clearly an unaffordable school for many students.
To get a comparison, I’m sharing the federal statistics for the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution, which is also in Philadelphia. Penn has a policy of meeting the full financial need of its students.

University of Pennsylvania’s Average Net Price

Family Income

  • $0-$30,000                        $6,704
  • $30,001 – $48,000           $8,505
  • $48,001 – $75,000            $15,139
  • $75,001 – $110,000          $21,312
  • $110,001 and up                $39,684

Obviously, Penn’s financial aid packages are far superior to Drexel’s.

Bottom Line:

If your child is eager to attend an expensive East Coast school that offers poor financial assistance be prepared for the financial shock. And please walk away if you can’t afford it!
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. I reject your notion that Penn’s financial aid package is superior to Drexel’s by virtue of the fact that families with higher incomes are forced to subsidize families with lower incomes. Many of these “affluent” families pay with loans and are forced to take on the full debt of their own and of the less affluent students.
    It is never fair when one person has to pick up the debt to give free goods and services to another person (i.e. moocher).

    1. Me me me me. Forget humble. Forget charitable. Forget generous. Affluent = privileged = more and better opportunities = there’s a price for that. Just remember, rising stars come from all backgrounds and all are deserving. For all you know, you could be subsidising the education of the savior of the world…. so stop whining.

  2. Please don’t go to Drexel! I got a library science degree from Drexel over 12 years ago. It was a 2-year Master’s program that for some reason cost almost $40,000, but it was the only library science program in my area at the time. Drexel’s library program has a great reputation, but I’m not sure why. When I was there, the program was about 35 years old, and the instructors had been there that long and were completely out of touch and ready to retire. I had to take useless required courses and feel I got a terrible education there – most of what I’ve learned has been learned on the job since then. I’m only paid off about half of my loans so far. My monthly payment was over $400 when I first graduated, and since I’ve consolidated my loans I have a much lower payment but will be a slave to Drexel for another 20 years! They’ve had the nerve to ask my for donations as an alum but they will never see an extra penny from me!!!

    1. I am aware of Drexel’s library science reputation. I was looking into their PHD program in information studies but know if you are seeking entrance into any program where funding is expected best not to bother. Their PHD funding is just as bad as their financial aid awards in my honest opinion. My degrees were in computer science and that is what I was admitted to Drexel for (I did apply to their master’s in software engineer program as well but received no funding at all just loans so I turned that down). What surprises me that employers like Drexel for computer science and encourage people to take out massive amounts of debt to attend. According to one source, they have the highest real cost in the nation minus financial aid. Their ranking for computer science is 99th, tied with several other colleges, according to US News. I am surprised that people rave about the university for CS when their ranking is low.

  3. “The vast majority of teenagers who want to attend schools in big cities aren’t going to have the academic profile to get into the most elite schools with urban zip codes such as University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Harvard, but they can get into schools like Drexel and NYU. If NYU was in the Ozarks it couldn’t get away with charging a high tuition, while giving low financial assistance.”
    This paragraph is quite an exaggeration. First, although less competitive than Harvard, obviously “the vast majority of teenagers who want to attend schools in big cities” could not get into schools like NYU. Second, these schools may be as expensive as those in the Ivy League, and probably not have great financial aid packages, but there are clearly valid reasons that people apply to expensive, highly-ranked schools outside of the Ivy League + “top 10” besides their location. Some of these reasons may warrant a high price tag, some of them don’t, and the price could probably use some adjustment in any case, but the point is that there are good reasons why it’s not “Ivy League / ‘top 10’ or bust”.

  4. I did a search of Northeastern to see what came up on your website. My son was just invited to their scholar’s program, with merit based free tuition. This was one of the colleges we visited last summer. It is a good example of a university that provides plenty of merit to Ivy level kids. Since you mentioned it with Drexel, I thought I’d pull it out of that paring and let you know more about their Co-Op program. Northeastern is one of the top Co-Op schools.
    Students can take up to 3 Co-Ops during their undergraduate program, although it is not required. They do have to interview for these opportunities, but are coached on resume writing, interviewing, and follow-up. During their Co-Op, they work full time, get paid a decent wage and do not pay tuition. They generally earn enough to cover their living expenses. Northeastern has thousands of Co-Op partners, not just in Boston, but across the country and the globe. A high percentage of students end up working for one of their Co-Op companies after they graduate, and if they don’t, their resume, fresh from college, has impressive work experience. This can be very helpful for MBA programs who are now preferring students who have real world work experience. These students are well rounded with solid academics and real world work experience…in non-profits, public and private sector sector organizations and companies across all industries.
    Northeastern was dinged by the Forbes rankings on affordability because one of Forbes’ measurements was “students graduating in 4 years.” Forbes did not take into account that this work experience, which often extends the time to graduate, does not cost families more money than a 4 year degree. This is a very different story than students who go to public colleges that are impacted who must go (and pay) for 5 years just to get the classes they need to graduate.
    This may sound like a Northeastern commercial, but I am offering this story as more testimony that supports your belief that there are great alternative to the Ivies. In my case, I earn too much to get enough need based financial aid to afford an Ivy without mortgaging my home or worse, saddling my son with a mountain of debt. The Ivies cost a quarter of a million dollars for a BA. Really? As most kids these days who are so brand conscious (thank you Steve Jobs!), my son had his sights set on the Ivies and will get in. The Ivies are the gold ring for the kids who go all in and all out. And as you say over and over, the Ivies give no merit. So the money that I’ve saved for college that is left after the BA can now roll over and go towards graduate school, which carries sticker shock as well. A MA (or BS) is now the new BA (or BS).

    1. HI Debta,
      Thanks for your comments and good to hear from you!
      What families need to be aware of is the high price of some of these coop programs in cities in the Northeast. I’m talking specifically about Northeastern and Drexel. I believe a big reason why Forbes hit Northeastern hard in the rankings is because it typically awards very poor financial aid. Drexel has horrible financial aid too. In fact, Drexel is apparently so ashamed of its aid practices that it doesn’t even release its statistics on the College Board website. That is never a good sign! Northeastern doesn’t release what the average debt is for students. Also a bad sign.
      For wealthy families, a school like Drexel or Northeastern does provide rich kids with merit aid. These schools are still trying to claw their way up the US News Rankings so they do offer merit scholarships. Consequently, rich families can pay less than they would at a school Like Harvard where there is no merit aid.
      These schools can charge more because the coop concept is sexy and they are located in big cities on the East Coast. I would not believe any school’s job placement rate — coop or not — without asking how the school calculates it. Schools, with few exceptions, provide job placement rates based on the grads who answered their survey. Schools rarely try to track grads down and find out what they are all doing. In these surveys its typically the students who have jobs who respond.
      I wish more schools would follow the lead of St. Olaf College (a wonderful school) and post REAL job placement stats.
      Good luck with your search.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. I think the interesting thing about Drexel’s financial aid is when they are confronted with anything to do with financial aid or debt I notice they usually give a statement like “Drexel is committed to helping students afford attendance”. I have experienced this myself and have read it on their own message board. I know when I asked what do I do about the 14,000 owed after scholarships, grants, and maximum Federal loans I was told to take out a private student loan. Of course there were new forms of STEM aid since I was a STEM student but you really have to push for that there at the time I believe. I would still run a deficit of 10 grand though.
        That is interesting though about wealthy students and where they attend. Drexel does hand out academic aid easily but it rarely makes a dent for financial aid students but does help with tuition for those not eligible. There are also kids with college funds set up for them but aren’t able to get into better schools. Interesting about the co-op networks too. I know I spoke to a woman at a large company who went to Drexel and of course she started going on about “work experience” for a new graduate position and you always see ads for co-op jobs. I see co-ops talked about profusely by Drexel students online but has anyone consider how much they are paying for experience?

  5. I would definitely check your finances before deciding to attend Drexel and by no means do not take out a private student loan to attend college. I know that Drexel’s financial aid department was ordered by a judge in New York to pay back all commissions they made from directing students to a certain private lender that may have had higher interest rate in order to make a commission. Of course they are not so eager to get students to sign up for private loans as they were. When I looked over my financial aid package, there were forms of financial aid that I know I could receive that weren’t on my letter. When I called to ask what do I do about all the tens of thousands of tuition not covered by traditional forms of financial aid I was told to take out a private student loan. In my view private student loans will be the next bubble as students continue to take them out to the point they have difficulty paying them back no matter what type of job they find. I know that they have their co-op program but how much should you have to pay a college to get work experience? It would be more financially feasible to pay an employer to let you work there. You still have to find a co-op job anyhow. If you really want experience just volunteer your time at a worthwhile charity and attend a state college, it will cost you a lot less.

    1. One other thing that people don’t consider is that many times because of their co-ops and the prestige associated with these high cost “prestige” colleges is employers tend to hire them first. this does cause issues with many people loaded with tons of debt just to get a job in certain fields. It is a vicious cycle really, students take out tons of debt to get a job then end up paying large percentages of that to a bank for many years. Kind of makes getting a job at McDonald’s and working your way up to management. I don’t mean to be such a downer but do believe something needs to be done about the student loan debt that continues to increase.

    2. Thanks for sharing your experience at Drexel. I was intrigued when you said you still have to find a co-op job. Do students have to do this on their own? Or does the school have lists of coops they can turn to?
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. From what I understand by reading about co-ops and talking to Drexel students, Drexel does maintain listings of those offering co-op jobs and does what they can to place students but getting hired is ultimately the student’s responsibility. They take some sort of class on getting hired until they find a co-op job. You also have to consider that in order to get the full 1 1/2 experience from the co-op you have to attend Drexel for a full 5 years which costs more since tuition continues to rise plus you have to pay for other expenses for another year. Although those that get co-ops get paid, this pay hardly makes a dent on how much you end up paying which is well over 200k. Another thing to consider the “average co-op” salary. When they calculated the average did they take into consideration the cost of living if your co-op is located in NY or the Bay Area? These co-ops pay more but you have to pay high expenses. They did not consider the median or mode because averages can be swayed by a few high paying co-ops done at places like Google or Facebook. What is the real average? I know I spoke to someone during a phone interview that went to Drexel and he boasted about the work experience he gained before graduating. How much did it cost him? Unfortunately I believe he will hire another Drexel student because they have “work experience”.

        1. Also, you can only receive one 6 month co-op experience if you transfer from community college so to really have the biggest advantage you have to attend Drexel for 5 years which will cost a lot no matter how much your co-op costs. I attended community college first before applying to Drexel so if I attended, I could only have one co-op experience.

        2. I attended both Drexel and Penn. The best way to find out what your financial aid will look like is to talk to current students who are receiving FA. The figures above is highly inaccurate.
          The Drexel Co-op is a formal program in which students are segmented into 2 cycles. Each cycle goes through 3 rounds of applying, interviewing, choosing/declining offers in the co-op system starting 2 terms before their co-op cycle starts. Students are allowed to and, if haven’t got an offer during the 3 rounds, are required to conduct independent job search until they find a co-op job. The co-op job is a full-time 6-month commitment.
          Penn has a published “no loan” financial aid policy. However, what they don’t tell you is that the no loan portion is only for the tuition. Most FA recipients have loans in their packages. All full-time students are also required to purchase a student insurance that costs >3200 a year. Although this insurance is mandatory for enrollment, the cost is not included in Penn’s cost of attendance when they use to calculate aid.
          If you get an internship or a summer job while attending Penn, your EFC will increase and your aid will be reduced accordingly. However, Federal law prevents Drexel from including your Co-op income when calculating your aid. Therefore, there is an additional 18k a year a Drexel student can earn without causing EFC to increase. But that of course is if you are an engineering student. Business and other majors earn significantly less. Co-op for art, film, English majors are unpaid so these majors usually choose 4-year with 1 co-op instead of the 5-year with 3 co-op program.
          Drexel is a good place for kids to learn to become financially responsible adults. People will come out of Drexel more mature than most college graduates. Penn, on the other hand, opens up more doors to finance and business jobs post graduation, even if you are not a business student.

          1. I kind of question whether Drexel makes you “financially mature”. 50% of admitted students do not attend Drexel. Many of those I am sure were people that could not afford to go after receiving their aid packets. I was one of them. Of course I was an adult student which is something else. Many of Drexel’s students are depending on parents to pay tuition and expenses, I don’t think it makes them financially mature to have their parents shell out a couple hundred grand for college. Since I believe the next debt bubble will be caused by student loans, the most financially mature thing to do is attend where you can afford it. Of course as I noticed, employers like to hire these students in the Philadelphia area just because of the perception of prestige they can boast about to their clients. This may cause people to take out a lot of loans to attend that must include private student loans. On the topic of private student loans, I know a district justice order them to pay back all the commissions they made from one provider for encouraging students to take out private loans with them.

        3. Actually, the cost of tuition would still be the same. An x amount of tuition (in dollars) is divided into 4 years, if that is what you choose. However, if you choose a 5 year with co-op, then that x amount of tuition is divided into the 5 years. The 5 years is a better investment, since you would have accumulated 2 co-ops worth of money more than a 4 year program at Drexel.

        4. In addition, assuming one majored in engineering, he/she would have no problem paying off their student loan after their stay at Drexel, unless they dont make wise use of their money, such as deciding to buy cars, etc.

  6. Lynn, thank you for taking your advice from informing readers to actually campaigning for them. To the uninformed, college financial aid is a black box. By opening the box, you are helping SO many people. As an advisor, I think one of the most valuable things I can do for my clients is to share this information with them, so they can educate their children without jeopardizing their financial security. Keep up the great work!

  7. Interesting! We were planning to visit Drexel next week, but we will have to keep this reality check in mind. Thanks for the valuable information!

    1. The choice of school really depends on the candidate student who received acceptance letter. I started my school at public school. Every parent(s) and student strives to attain the necessary – profile to be accepted to their desired school. There exist other quality school(s) beside, the schools you mention. Look at Rochester, NY and Boston other school (RIT, University of Rochester, Northeastern U, and Boston U).
      My recommendation to “shopping for college(s) is ask your child, do you have what it takes to succeed at this (->) school you have (&) = reference(s) and A* (Pointers to some search resource).
      My profile, completed a “college-degree(s)” from public and (&&) private school(s). Completed coop at public CC, succeed in learning a trade. Then was accepted in private (college || university || *) selected an upstate North East school. These school(s) you point out are “Fast School” and “Cut-throat”.
      My sibling received partial-scholarship to one of the big school mention, but also receive full-scholarship && partial scholarship from smaller private schools in Pennsylvania, VA, NJ. She was accepted to Pre-Med program, then switch to “Business School”. This sibling is managing publisher on Wall Street today.
      Another sibling received acceptance to top schools, but was not accepted in “IVY league schools” undergraduate. He completed his JD IP in one of the school you mention.
      We had two home(s), my folks parent(s) has two Degree(3) MBA – Accounting / MS Taxation / CPA from Northeast State. Mother has two Degree (2) Commerce & Accounting / Education from overseas.
      Suggest to savvy college shopper
      Create Debit & Credit – simple grid
      Establish – check list – top columns (n)
      Refer to published work from – commercial resources
      Use their established criteria – left rows (n) –
      Refer to “pulp annual college report” ranking schools.
      You can create your own Criteria / Metrics to allow your child to Succeed
      Try your own criteria –
      Quality of Life,
      How will your child handle Independence?
      Will there be night light by local village / metro area?
      Will your offspring participate in sports or school club sport or school newspaper, etc?
      How far commute to home?
      During home visit will you child bring their laundry home?
      Do you have friend(s) or family near the city or village?
      Where you child will attend (university)?
      Far-point Friends and family Support system
      Is there mass transit system?
      Can you child survive without their own wheel(s)
      Finally, Plane(s), train(s), automobile(s) during holiday season
      Does the school(s) selected have good
      Infrastructure to support your child needs
      Tutoring services
      Libraries (study space)
      Quality of Instructor(S) – do they speak coherent English?
      Is there opportunity to participate in Research for those
      Desiring to attend post-4 year education
      Do you thing you Child will have good overall experience
      Do you think your child will succeed at the select the college(s) / school(s)
      Life is like a supermarket – taken from the sound track of from the band the clash.
      Let the student determine their destiny, but keep in mind
      Can the child pay off the “college debt” = tuition, room & board & other expenses after graduation.
      FYI there is some students who might complete course work beyond the normal 4year or 5 year college program.
      Finally what will be the summation of the end result of the child “college major” && the overall “college experience(s)”. Will the offspring enjoy themselves outside the classroom / labs?
      * Work-study is really pocket money while at school.
      What I am trying to say is – the Child / Student job is = School
      Other(s) activities are white noise.
      When I was in school
      We did not have – cable TV, in my off-campus flat after freshman year.
      Most of the time was spent in lab(s) or library finding a warm place to study and complete course work.
      What happen(s) if child does not like or enjoy a competitive school?
      Time to return to the nest.
      Inclosing, it is not just the school. It is combination of factor(s).
      My overall experience was that selection of “college major” that require
      “COOP” or internship at public or private school that helps the student fine his/her way
      To their next potential career opportunities.
      Hats off to you Lynn to Enlightening our awareness of the “danger zone” in selecting school for your “off-spring(s)”
      Raising this issue of The Real Cost of Attending an Expensive East Coast University
      web source:
      College Acceptance Letters Are Glitzier, but Rejections Are Harsher