• September 2, 2015

A Public University Joins the Expanding $50K Club of College Prices

The ranks of the most expensive colleges have grown again: 100 institutions are charging $50,000 or more for tuition, fees, room, and board in 2010-11, according to a Chronicle analysis of data released last week by the College Board. That's well above the 58 universities and colleges that charged that much in 2009-10, and a major jump from the year before, when only five colleges were priced over $50,000.

This year marks a milestone as the first public institution has joined that elite club: the University of California at Berkeley is charging out-of-state residents $50,649 for tuition, fees, room, and board. (The price for in-state residents is only $27,770.)

All of the other 99 colleges charging $50,000 or more are private. They made up 9 percent of the 1,058 private institutions reporting any amount for tuition, fees, room, and board.


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To be sure, many students at the most-expensive institutions are paying significantly less than the sticker price, thanks to financial aid. Net prices, including financial aid, are not available by institution for 2010-11. But the College Board estimates that the average net price for tuition, fees, room, and board at private, four-year colleges has fallen slightly from the level five years ago, when adjusted for inflation, to $21,020 this year.

Still, some students pay the full, published prices. And college officials and analysts have worried (see last year's $50K club article) that if list prices continue to rise, they may drive away applicants and draw pressure from policy makers. A sticker price of $50,000 is more than twice the annual income for a family of four living at the poverty line, $22,050.

But other observers forecast little decline in the number of students eager to attend elite institutions charging big sticker prices.

Berkeley's charges topping $50,000 represent an outlier among the nearly 600 four-year public institutions for which the College Board reported out-of-state charges for tuition, fees, room, and board in 2010-11. The median such charge in that group was $23,526.

Only 14 public institutions besides Berkeley set those charges at $40,000 or higher in 2010-11. Of them, eight are other campuses in the University of California system. The other six institutions are the College of William & Mary and the Universities of Colorado at Boulder, Michigan at Ann Arbor, Texas at Austin, Vermont, and Virginia. [Editor's Note: The last two paragraphs were added to this article on November 2, 2010, after its original publication.]

Institutions charging $50,000 or more:

  Tuition, fees, room, and board ($)  
Institution 2010-11 2009-10 1-year increase
Sarah Lawrence College 57,384 55,788 2.9%
Landmark College 56,500 53,900 4.8%
Columbia U. School of General Studies 54,782 51,930 5.5%
Wesleyan U. 53,976 51,432 4.9%
Columbia U. 53,874 51,544 4.5%
Johns Hopkins U. 53,690 51,690 3.9%
Georgetown U. 53,591 52,161 2.7%
New York U. 53,589 51,993 3.1%
Harvey Mudd College 53,588 51,137 4.8%
Barnard College 53,496 50,969 5.0%
Bard College 53,480 51,180 4.5%
Trinity College (Conn.) 53,330 51,400 3.8%
Washington U. in St. Louis 53,315 51,193 4.1%
Bates College 53,300 51,300 3.9%
U. of Chicago 53,244 51,078 4.2%
Claremont McKenna College 53,230 51,035 4.3%
Connecticut College 53,110 51,115 3.9%
Fordham U. 53,093 50,598 4.9%
Vassar College 53,090 51,470 3.1%
Pitzer College 53,080 50,770 4.5%
George Washington U. 53,025 51,775 2.4%
Vanderbilt U. 53,000 51,228 3.5%
Haverford College 52,970 50,975 3.9%
Stevens Institute of Technology 52,965 50,750 4.4%
Babson College 52,916 50,324 5.2%
Bennington College 52,900 50,860 4.0%
Scripps College 52,900 50,550 4.6%
Bowdoin College 52,880 50,900 3.9%
New School Parsons School of Design 52,870 51,270 3.1%
Tufts U. 52,866 51,088 3.5%
Occidental College 52,815 49,702 6.3%
U. of Southern California 52,752 50,732 4.0%
Carnegie Mellon U. 52,690 51,068 3.2%
Boston College 52,624 50,970 3.2%
Bard College at Simon's Rock 52,610 50,340 4.5%
Oberlin College 52,587 50,484 4.2%
Middlebury College 52,500 50,780 3.4%
Northwestern U. 52,463 50,164 4.6%
Dartmouth College 52,445 50,084 4.7%
Eastman School of Music of U. of Rochester 52,372 50,326 4.1%
Williams College 52,340 49,880 4.9%
Union College (N.Y.) 52,329 50,439 3.7%
Cornell U. 52,316 50,114 4.4%
Bucknell U. 52,280 50,320 3.9%
Hampshire College 52,202 50,450 3.5%
St. John's College (Md.) 52,176 50,352 3.6%
St. John's College (N.M.) 52,176 49,992 4.4%
Skidmore College 52,170 51,196 1.9%
Hobart and William Smith Colleges 52,168 50,245 3.8%
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 52,145 50,310 3.6%
Boston U. 52,124 50,288 3.7%
Carleton College 52,110 50,205 3.8%
Franklin & Marshall College 52,110 50,410 3.4%
Colgate U. 52,060 50,940 2.2%
Mount Holyoke College 52,036 50,576 2.9%
Colby College 51,990 50,320 3.3%
Boston Conservatory 51,985 49,856 4.3%
Dickinson College 51,975 50,219 3.5%
Wellesley College 51,950 49,848 4.2%
U. of Pennsylvania 51,944 49,986 3.9%
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering 51,925 50,025 3.8%
U. of Rochester 51,922 49,890 4.1%
Smith College 51,898 50,380 3.0%
Duke U. 51,865 49,895 3.9%
Reed College 51,850 49,950 3.8%
Bryn Mawr College 51,780 50,034 3.5%
Lafayette College 51,774 50,289 3.0%
St. Lawrence U. 51,770 49,925 3.7%
Hamilton College (N.Y.) 51,760 49,860 3.8%
Tulane U. 51,708 50,190 3.0%
Amherst College 51,520 49,078 5.0%
Swarthmore College 51,500 49,600 3.8%
Brandeis U. 51,488 49,562 3.9%
Chapman U. 51,481 49,596 3.8%
Fairfield U. 51,430 49,410 4.1%
Gettysburg College 51,390 48,460 6.0%
Brown U. 51,360 49,128 4.5%
Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts 51,350 49,810 3.1%
Berklee College of Music 51,335 48,733 5.3%
Pomona College 51,330 49,668 3.3%
Wheaton College (Mass.) 51,264 49,440 3.7%
Providence College 51,125 44,480 14.9%
Wake Forest U. 50,980 49,032 4.0%
College of the Holy Cross 50,832 49,342 3.0%
U. of Notre Dame 50,785 48,845 4.0%
Harvard College 50,724 48,684 4.2%
U. of California at Berkeley (out-of-state residents) 50,649 47,726 6.1%
Drew U. 50,647 48,385 4.7%
Washington and Lee U. 50,630 48,702 4.0%
Stanford U. 50,576 48,843 3.5%
Villanova U. 50,550 49,330 2.5%
Pepperdine U. 50,470 48,750 3.5%
West Coast U. 50,453 n/a n/a
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 50,446 49,142 2.7%
U. of Richmond 50,420 48,490 4.0%
Kenyon College 50,400 48,240 4.5%
New School Mannes College of Music 50,360 48,860 3.1%
Emory U. 50,356 48,932 2.9%
Loyola Marymount U. 50,334 48,679 3.4%
Lehigh U. 50,300 48,830 3.0%
Worcester Polytechnic Institute 50,240 48,868 2.8%
American U. 50,165 47,903 4.7%
Cleveland Institute of Music 50,005 47,157 6.0%
Loyola U. Maryland 50,000 47,810 4.6%
Note: The designation "n/a" means data were not available. Students incur additional costs not included in these figures, such as books and transportation. This list includes units of institutions that are also shown on the list. In the accompanying news article, The Chronicle did not include the units in tallies of the number of institutions charging $50,000 or more.
Source: The College Board collected the figures for 2010-11 in its "Annual Survey of Colleges 2010." © 2010, the College Board. This material may not be copied, published, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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Tuition and Fees, 2010-11
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1. mmccross - November 01, 2010 at 09:52 am

This is horrible. I payed something like $212/quarter at UC Berkeley back in the late 1970s (reduced to $112 since I had a scholarship that paid $100/quarter). Prices have risen across the board since then I realize but $50,000 for tuition at Berkeley is way too much. It will not be possible for middle class (to say nothing of working class) students to attend UC Berkeley. Having said that, at least students get a world class education at Berkeley. I haven't even heard of some of the colleges on this list (and I am a professor).

2. berkeleyprof - November 01, 2010 at 11:06 am

As one of the faculty at Berkeley, I can assure you that we also do not want to load students and their families with this debt.

Consider this:
1) State suppot, as you likely know, has fallen through the floor.
2) We have very, very low ratios of alumni support. This is likely in part due to the means we use for alumni development (primarily through athletics, and top-down, highly controlled fund-raising) and perhaps also because alums of old saw the education as a public good, while society has shifted it to a private good today.
3) We are not, at least in the ranks of the professorate, living lavishly. Our salaries are not competititve, while our work is; we have no phones in our uncleaned offices, no staff support, etc. I fund-raise for my students every year.

We remain a place where a very large proportion of students are supported by Pell grants, as readers of CHE know. But the money must come from somewhere.

3. csuci_cio - November 01, 2010 at 11:47 am

mmccross - I agree it's horrible, but note that the amount is not $50k for tuition - it's tuition + living expenses.

4. 22286593 - November 01, 2010 at 12:40 pm

The truth of the matter is that Berkeley faculty members--like all UC faculty members--are very highly paid. Perhaps slightly less than elite privates but much more than comparable public research universities and much, much more than their California State University counter-parts. I think there is going to be increasing number of folks who will come to think that it is unreasonable to compare the salary of a public university faculty to a private institution. Perhaps even the richest states cannot afford to compete with private universities for faculty talent, and they should no longer try. Instead, flagship public universities should rethink it's mission and place a hard cap on faculty salary, mandatory teaching load, and let the chips fall where they may. At places like Berkeley, they have been fighting mightily to keep faculty members from jumping ship to Chicago's and Harvard's and MIT's--perhaps it's now time to let these people go and focus on keeping faculty who value the public mission, impactful teaching, and the softer benefits of working at a state, public university. This is really a call for sanity, to compete with the privates, flagship publics must pay faculty more to teach less--is this any way to run a university?

5. aicaiel - November 01, 2010 at 12:43 pm

mmcross wrote that the charge for tuition in the late 70s was $212.

And in 1970 -- on my way to Berkeley as an undergrad -- I bought a used car for $25. Things change.

But besides that, perhaps rather than looking at nominal dollar cost, we should look at "affordability." There might be a few gauges of this.

First, are people not going to college because of the cost? With record numbers of people enrolling in college, I don't think this is the case

What is the relative cost of a college education? One online source gives the median income in 1975 as around $12,000, and in 2009 as around $50,000. If memory serves me correctly, my cost for attending Berkeley in the early 70s was around $2,500 per year (room, board, tuition, etc), which would be about 25% of the median income, as opposed to 100% of the median income today.

Of course, this is the ostensible cost, which is more often than not offset by financial aid packages of grants, scholarships, loans. But in any event, the question becomes, is this price reasonable? I say the "price" because I assume the actual cost is reflected in the "sticker price." That is, it actually does cost this amount to provide an education; the question then becomes, who is going to pay it? What is "right," "reasonable," and what is best for the individual and for our society?

6. hamsandwich - November 01, 2010 at 12:55 pm

The good news is that no matter what the cost of these mostly over-priced educations, there are some really affordable options out there. And I don't think that a degree from UNC-CH, U of Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Nebraska, etc etc is looked upon any less favorably than all but a small handful of the "name brand" schools on the list (U. Chicago, Harvard, etc) when it comes time to admitting graduates into professional schools or for considering them for jobs.

What has always amazed me is that there are people out there who will spend the $200 grand or so to send their child to get a four-year degree at a school that many folks have never heard of (Conn. College, West Coast U, Kenyon College, Pitzer, Sarah Lawrence, Claremont McKenna College, etc)... I am afraid that if a resume came across my desk with one of those names on it, I wouldn't be able to grant it the special acknowledgement that I'm sure it deserves, given its lofty price tag.

7. cosmopolite - November 01, 2010 at 01:53 pm

The sticker price for attending a private college or university is meaningless, because the actual cost is taylored to each student's financial circumstances, after borrowing to the hilt from Sallie Mae. Admissions offices call this financial aid; economists call it price discrimination, charging each customer what the supplier thinks (s)he can bear. USA private universities are the most blatant price discriminators in the American economy.

The objective of the sticker price is to milk parents who have substantial investment portfolios for every possible dollar. And there are many such parents. Most of the 30 trillion dollars of stocks, bonds, and commercial real estate around us is owned by Americans.

Please understand that the recession has led to reductions in state spending on tertiary education, and to a reduction in private donations to all universities. Either people have to be laid off, salaries cut, or tuition raised. In my academic unit, we have just been told that the reduction in student numbers resulting from the introduction of a firm flunk out rule (if your GPA falls below 1.8, you're out) will mean that 6 out of 65 tenured people have to be let go. Those people will be deadwood over 55 who will get a Golden Handshake if they agree to retire early. Their departure could leave us better off. Even so, de facto tenure is a casualty of the current recession.

The problem is only going to get worse. The ceiling on annual contributions to Coverdell accounts should be raised to $10,000. Or parents should live in carefree bohemian poverty and throw their children to the tender mercies of the Scholarship Offices.

8. tolerantly - November 01, 2010 at 03:13 pm

I'm ashamed to see my alma mater on this list.

My new plan: Prepare my daughter to educate herself, gain resume experience, and get on with life without the ludicrously expensive bachelor's degree. If someone wants to fund her, marvelous. Otherwise, the loans are for suckers only. I suspect that by the time she graduates from high school, sometime around 2020, she'll not only have company among the college-prepped but employers will have discovered that young, bright, otherwise well-credentialled people are cheaper and easier to manage than the young pressure-cookers trying to haul six-figure loans around -- and do just as good a job.

9. gailhdavis - November 01, 2010 at 06:40 pm

And still Berkely is cutting sports!

10. squidward - November 01, 2010 at 07:23 pm

More than anything, it is the reduced state support that has driven UC Berkeley to such a high price range. Of course, this just illustrates how they are trying to fill a budget gap on the backs of foreign and out of state students, and as long as the reputation of the institution remains intact, they will be able to draw the students.

That reputation, more than anything, depends on the faculty, so of course they need to be paid well to maintain that status (and to be able to afford to live in a very expensive area). Yet the university spends heavily on retention offers to keep some of those faculty members, when they could let them go and hire the most promising new scholars for much less. Some of those faculty members have gotten retention packages, only to go seek another offer a few years later to further bolster their pay. This rewarding of ego and greed does not help the cause of maintaining an affordable education for the people of California.

Then there are the extravagant salaries of the administrators, who all too often do a poor job and then get a big reward when they finally leave. And yes, the fund-raising through the development office is problematic, with proprietary rules about donors that funnel much of the money to athletics - the academic departments get virtually no help from the people working in the development office and are told they have to find their own donors (i.e., divert the work of your non-exisitant staff toward doing work that the development office won't do for you).

So the ever declining state support is the major problem, but there are some fundamental aspect of the culture of UC Berkeley that also stand in the way of keeping the education affordable. The administration has for a long time protected themselves (first) and the faculty (second) at the cost of everything else, but at some point many faculty members are going to get fed up with no phones, uncleaned bathrooms, etc. and head elsewhere, along with the university's reputation. Unless they get a big retention package.

11. djr46074 - November 01, 2010 at 07:39 pm

California residents should not be asked to subsidized the college educations of non-residents at UC or CSU campuses. Indeed, I argue that, at state-supported universities, the out-of-state students should subsidize the educations of the in-state students. Thus, out-of-state tuition for UC-Berkeley and other state-supported institutions should be a non-issue. In-state tuition is another story, of course ...

Tolerantly, I acknowledge your point that college is not the only way for a young person to establish his/her qualifications for a good non-technical, entry-level job in the private sector. But are you proposing that we generalize your daughter's plan for the bulk of young people? If a college education is not to be the primary way for establishing credentials for good non-technical, entry-level jobs in the private sector, how do you propose that the bulk of young people obtain such credentials? A high school diploma/GPA does not provide enough information. There are not enough internships. Minimum-wage jobs? A public works program? Military service? Standardized testing? I am afraid that your model may not fit well with the current economic realities. Don't you think that the days are gone of using a high-school diploma as the primary credential for obtaining a good non-technical, entry-level job that possesses reasonable job security expectations?

12. observer001 - November 01, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Do those who are complaining really not understand? The money has to come from somewhere and educating the indigent through lower middle classes isn't some sort of god-given right. This is the real cost of college: you don't want to pay taxes to support public higher education like you don't want to pay taxes for health care? Fine. But you can't complain when your state's once competitive and affordable flagship university goes private or turns into a vocational school, and the vocational/cc's disappear altogether. And to the posters like no. 8 who say they will refuse to support their children in getting an education and want to rely on 'work experience' - good luck, might as well rely on prayer. We'll smile at her for you when we see her at the WalMart checkout counter or at TGIF's gaining 'experience.'

13. jrstahl - November 02, 2010 at 10:37 am

I don't think these numbers take into account whether these schools are also generous with scholarships and financial aid or not. It would be interesting to see how the list would change if you factored in somehow how likely you are to get financial support to afford the tuition.

On the other side of the coin, there are still schools that can be attended for free or nearly free: http://blogs.voanews.com/student-union/2010/11/02/the-50000-club/

14. tsb2010 - November 02, 2010 at 11:00 am

Isn't it interesting that Sarah Lawrence College, a bastion of liberal mindset, is leading the list??

15. drnels - November 02, 2010 at 03:24 pm

I'm so glad I don't have kids.

16. jthelin - November 02, 2010 at 04:28 pm

First, a response to comment no 9 by Gail Davis, who wrote:

"And still Berkely is cutting sports!"

I think a more accurate way to look at it is that since UC Berkeley was subsidizing via the General Fund numerous varsity sports programs, the very recent cutbacks probably are a belated and insufficient attempt to reduce expenses -- expenses that were never intended to be paid by student tuition, but rather, by the allegedly self supporting athletics department and its foundation.

I am not happy about the recent prices charged by Cal. However, before we wax too nostalgic about the tuition free, affordable Cal prior to 1970, I recall studies showing that the "no tuition "policy was not esp effective in promoting equity or access because it oten simply meant that Cal students from very affluent families paid nothing -- and Berkeley's socio-economic profile was not much different than that of allegedly high priced Stanford. Low tuition did little by itself to achieve any semblance of socio-economic balance or equity at Cal.

Maybe the Golden Bear was a bit tarnished decades back?

Meanwhile, the administrative salaries at Cal in recent years are inappropriate.

John Thelin (Cal MA '72, PhD '73)

17. tolerantly - November 02, 2010 at 06:08 pm

@ No. 12, observer: "And to the posters like no. 8 who say they will refuse to support their children in getting an education and want to rely on 'work experience' - good luck, might as well rely on prayer. We'll smile at her for you when we see her at the WalMart checkout counter or at TGIF's gaining 'experience.'"

Keep dreaming and hoping the degrees you peddle are that necessary. I have family members younger than me who haven't gone to college and are making better money than most non-clinical profs will ever see. And have done for years. Have other friends whose careers have nothing to do with their BAs and work among unlettered with healthy salaries. I make my money in a field for which I'm entirely unqualified formally. Our secret? We're bright and useful. One does not have to go to college to learn how to learn, much less to learn how to work.

Outside academia, there are a lot of bright people making healthy middle-class money without degrees. Your perch makes you delusional about just how necessary those letters are.

18. henrymllr - November 03, 2010 at 11:11 pm

So much rationalization and bad faith on this subject. I know many uc profs who have taken 12-15 years or more to write the post-tenure book. Given the amount of teaching and leave time, the second book alone is among the expensive unread artifacts any civilization could create. The state legislature, filled with dummies, counts on pure cynicism to make sure the "best" education often times does not rise to even the level of the mediocre. professors not engaged in constant research should be let go, because its academic production that matters, right?

19. librarystudent - November 04, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Thank you, hamsandwich. Your post is as meaty as your username. I am sending your post to my children.

20. drdaddy - November 13, 2010 at 02:54 pm

I put my 16-year-old son in Middle College High School at a community college. With the small state grant available to all MCHS students coupled with my discount for working for the college (most states have something like this), he will graduate HS with an A.S. degree and will transfer his 60 hours to a 4-year state university. These 60 hours will have cost a total 1400.00. I have told him that his success will be determined by what HE does at college, not what college he attends. He will graduate with a B.A. and zero debt. That'll put him about 200,000.00 (plus interest, if any) ahead of the grads from the colleges listed above.

21. jeremiahnee - December 04, 2010 at 07:01 am

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