Of course, DOE isn't completely transparent. It won't tell you the true student-loan default rate, for example. But you didn't want to know that anyway, did you?
DOE's center recently posted its so-called "hall of shame," a list of the country's most expensive colleges. In 2012, the most expensive private nonprofit college was Columbia University, where it costs $45,000 a year to attend.
Interestingly, DOE's "hall of shame" list posts two prices for each institution--the college's list price and its net price, which is lower.That's right--colleges are just like car dealers. They have a sticker price for suckers and a lower price for favored clients.
Who are the colleges' favored clients? Athletes, people with high SAT scores, offspring of alumni and minorities.
Oh, yes--and poor people. The elite colleges say they want a "socioeconomically diverse" student body and they often offer financial aid to poor students, which the colleges call the "socioeconomically disadvantaged."
This is how it works at Columbia University, as explained by Robert Hornsby, Columbia University's Vice President for media relations. "As a result of our full-need financial aid program," Hornsby said, "Columbia has continued to attract among the most socioeconomically diverse student bodies among peer institutions. The university takes pride in its continued commitment to ensuring that students can attend Columbia regardless of their family's financial circumstances."
Don't you wish you could sling bull around like Mr. Hornsby? Well, you can learn to talk like that if you get a degree from Columbia and it will only cost you about a quarter of a million bucks (including living expenses).
And if you are poor it will cost you less to attend Columbia, because you will be eligible to participate in Columbia's "full-need financial aid program." Sounds great doesn't it?
Unfortunately, poor people who attend elite colleges don't always fare well. For example, let's look at Angelica Gonzales, a young Hispanic woman who was featured in a recent New York Times story. Angelica was from a low-income family in Galveston, Texas, but she was admitted to Emory University in Atlanta--the Harvard of the South. Because of her family's income status, she was eligible to participate in Emory's financial aid program, which was supposed to cover most of her costs.
What a great opportunity!
Unfortunately, things did not work out well for Angelica. Because of miscommunication with the university, Angelica wound up borrowing $40,000 for her first year at Emory. Later, Emory miscalculated her family's income, making her ineligible to participate in a grant program for families making less than $50,000 a year. As the Times reporter described the error, "Emory repeatedly inflated her family’s income without telling her."
Angelica wound up borrowing $60,000 to attend Emory. Worse--she was unable to complete her degree and dropped out of college. At the time the Times story was published, Angelica was back in Galveston making $8.50 an hour working at a Galveston furniture store. And she is burdened with $60,000 in student-loan debt.
|Emory's Lynn Zimmerman|
photo credit: Emory Univ.
I don't know how Angelica feels about her Emory experience; she may have no regrets. But in my opinion, Angelica would have been better off if she had never heard of Emory.
Angelica Gonzales' story may be unusual, but I don't think so. I think a lot of low-income kids get lured into attending elite colleges thinking this will be their ticket to a better life. Often the financial aid does not cover all costs, and they are forced to borrow heavily. And often the support networks are not in place to make sure low-income students are successful when they enter the rarefied world of the elite private college.
If things don't work out for these low-income students--if for some reason they don't complete their degree or they complete their degree and don't get a good job--they are in real trouble if they took out student loans.
And if a student runs into financial trouble, do you think that elite college is going to be around to help? I don't think so.
In my opinion, most young people who come from low-income or modest-income families would be better off going to a state university or even a community college rather than borrowing a lot of money to attend a fancy East Coast university or a joint like Emory.
Let's face it, you don't have to attend an elite private college to get a good education. You can get one for a lot less money closer to home.
Jason DeParle (2012, December 22). For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall. New York Times, p. 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Libby Nelson (2013, June 28). Education Department releases annual tuition pricing lists. Inside Higher Education.
Note: All quotes in this essay came from the Times article cited above or the above-cited article in Inside Higher Education.