Colleges Hard-Pressed To Explain Variations In Price

"To the casual observer, the University of Connecticut at Storrs and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill look a lot alike. ... There are, of course, plenty of differences between the two campuses, but one that stands out is the price," The Chronicle of Higher Education reports

"The average in-state, full-time student at UConn paid about $5,000 more per year in the 2012 academic year than a similar student paid at Chapel Hill, according to federal figures.

That difference turns out to be difficult for college administrators to explain.

'There's not one answer, as far as I can tell you,' said Lysa D. Teal, associate vice president for budget and finance at Connecticut, about why the university's average price per student was different from others in its peer group, including the University of North Carolina.

James W. Dean Jr., executive vice chancellor and provost at the Chapel Hill campus, said, 'I'm not sure I have a great answer for that.'

The difficulty is due, in part, to the complexity and number of variables that go into determining how much students will pay at a given college. 

But another reason it’s difficult to explain differences in price is that colleges are not good at measuring how much it actually costs to deliver a higher education. ...

The decision about tuition pricing does not usually begin with a discussion about how much the university should charge individual students, said George Pernsteiner, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers and a former chancellor of the Oregon University System. The No. 1 question, he said, is how much overall revenue the institution needs to generate from tuition. For a public college, it’s the amount of revenue needed after considering state appropriations, philanthropy, and other sources of income that it can use to pay for education and related expenses.

Second, a public college has to decide how much of that money will come from in-state students, Mr. Pernsteiner said, and how much from nonresidents, who typically pay something closer to full price and essentially subsidize the cost for in-state and low-income students.

At that point, colleges begin the intricate process of choosing an incoming class that meets the institution's financial needs as well as its academic requirements, and adds to the socioeconomic diversity on campus.

'It's part art and part science,' said Wayne Locust, vice president for enrollment planning and management at the University of Connecticut."

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