Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Index Aims to Demystify College Pricing

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Index Aims to Demystify College Pricing

Article excerpt

Students on average pay more to go to Fairleigh Dickinson than Princeton.

That may be surprising, but it's the kind of comparison you get in a new national College Scorecard that President Obama is citing as a family-friendly index for weighing the costs and benefits of various colleges.

But as with all such indexes, say administrators at North Jersey colleges and universities, statistics tell only part of the story -- and parents still will face additional homework to get a real sense of the issue.

The FDU and Princeton comparison offers a case in point: The net cost of attending Princeton University -- meaning the published costs minus grants -- was $18,813 per year, according to the national College Scorecard, as compared with $25,951 to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University's campus in Madison-Florham Park.

But the Princeton bargain is due in large part to the generous institutional aid provided by the Ivy League school, where the published tuition and room and board costs exceed $50,000.

Indeed, the actual cost of attending schools can differ greatly from the sticker price -- a fact long known by admissions experts and counselors, but one that is often less than clear to prospective students and their families.

The interactive list -- found at whitehouse.gov/scorecard -- provides basic information on cost, graduation rates and student debt for schools around the country.

President Obama touted the scorecard in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying it is a tool for families to make informed choices about "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck" and hopefully stem escalating college costs.

The information has been publicly available on federal databases before, but the new format makes it more accessible. It also rates the schools on a rudimentary cost index of low, medium or high.

The overall costs include tuition, fees, room and board and incidentals calculated for both commuter students and those who live in dorms.

Rutgers University in New Brunswick comes in at the medium range with a net price of $15,905 and a very respectable graduation rate of 77.4 percent.

The federal government calculates that rate based on the percentage of students who earn a four-year degree within six years of entering college. More time spent in school means more overall costs for a degree.

William Paterson University in Wayne comes in at the low end of the cost range, with a net of just over $11,000, but with a lower graduation rate, at 46.2 percent.

"Raising our graduation and retention rates is something we're focusing a lot of attention on," said Kristin Cohen, vice president of enrollment management. The tactics include more student advising and flexible scheduling.

Administrators at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark also say they want to improve upon the school's 54 percent graduation rate, the result in large part of the rigor of the highly technical majors, such as engineering, at the Newark campus. …

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