Some Colleges Will Soon Charge $100,000 a Year. How Did This Happen?

It was only a matter of time before a college would have the nerve to quote its cost of attendance at nearly $100,000 a year. This spring, we’re catching our first glimpse of it.

One letter to a newly admitted Vanderbilt University engineering student showed an all-in price — room, board, personal expenses, a high-octane laptop — of $98,426. A student making three trips home to Los Angeles or London from the Nashville campus during the year could hit six figures.

This eye-popping sum is an anomaly. Only a tiny fraction of college-going students will pay anything close to this anytime soon, and about 35 percent of Vanderbilt students — those who get neither need-based nor merit aid — pay the full list price.

But a few dozen other colleges and universities that reject the vast majority of applicants will probably arrive at this threshold within a few years. Their willingness to cross it raises two questions for anyone shopping for college: How did this happen, and can it possibly be worth it?

Who Pays What

According to the College Board, the average 2023-24 list price for tuition, fees, housing and food was $56,190 at private, nonprofit four-year schools. At four-year public colleges, in-state students saw an average $24,030 sticker price.

That’s not what many people pay, though, not even close. As of the 2019-20 school year, according to federal data that the College Board used in a 2023 report, 39 percent of in-state students attending two-year colleges full-time received enough grant aid to cover all of their tuition and fees (though not their living expenses, which can make getting through school enormously difficult). At four-year public schools, 31 percent paid nothing for tuition and fees while 18 percent of students at private colleges and universities qualified for the same deal.

Related Articles

Back to top button