The average college tuition cost has increased in the 2021-2022 academic year over the prior year across both public and private schools, U.S. News data shows.
A college’s sticker price is the amount advertised as the full rate for tuition and fees before financial need, scholarships and other aid are factored in. Net price is the amount that a family pays after aid and scholarships — usually offsetting the sticker price shock.
Despite some schools implementing tuition freezes and discounts last school year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on families across the country, tuition rates are up. The average tuition and fees at private ranked colleges has climbed by about 1%, according to data for the 2021-2022 school year submitted to U.S. News in an annual survey. Similarly, the average price for both in-state and out-of-state tuition and fees at ranked public schools has increased by around 1% to 2%.
Schools reported this data in spring and summer of 2021. Some colleges are continuing tuition discounts and providing scholarships for the 2021-2022 academic year to eligible students. Others have raffled off free tuition to incentivize students to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The cost of education remains a significant financial challenge for many families, and many underestimate the sticker price. According to the recent 2021 Fidelity Investments survey College Savings & Student Debt, 38% of high school students and 1 in 4 parents believe the total cost of attendance for one year of college equates to $5,000 or less. This number is far below what they’re likely to pay at public and private four-year colleges; plus, in addition to tuition and fees, students must also pay for other expenses, such as housing, food and books, which can run thousands of dollars a year.
Choice of college contributes to affordability. According to the Fidelity survey, 4 in 10 high school students rated cost as the “most important” factor in choosing a college.
The average cost of tuition and fees to attend a ranked public college in state is about 73% less than the average sticker price at a private college, at $10,388 for the 2021-2022 year compared with $38,185, respectively, U.S. News data shows. The average cost for out-of-state students at public colleges comes to $22,698 for the same year.
One way to determine a college’s affordability is by evaluating financial aid award packages. While an institution like Princeton University in New Jersey, for instance, advertised a sticker price of $53,890 for tuition and fees in 2020-2021, the average cost to students after receiving need-based grants that year was around $23,572.
Since 1993, U.S. News has provided information on the Best Value Schools, which measure academic quality and price, factoring in the net cost of attendance for a student after receiving the average level of need-based financial aid. U.S. News introduced a new factor in these rankings last year: the percentage of need-based aid recipients who received grants and scholarships, a change that rewards colleges whose aid policies allow students to rely less on loans.
Yale University is the No. 1 Best Value School among National Universities, schools that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Yale provided need-based grants to 57% of undergraduates. The highly selective Connecticut school offered an average need-based scholarship or grant award of $60,494 to undergraduates in 2020-2021. That amount exceeded the school’s tuition and fees that year of $57,700; however, students still had to pay other costs, like room and board.
Some regional schools, including those that aren’t as selective as Yale, are also generous with need-based financial aid. At McDaniel College, for example, although the school charged $45,876 in tuition and fees last year, 81% of students received need-based grants. The Maryland institution’s financial aid awards in 2020-2021 dropped the average net price for students to $22,236.
The data above is correct as of Sept. 13, 2021. For complete cost data, full rankings and much more, access the U.S. News College Compass.
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Update 09/13/21: This article has been updated to reflect ranks and data from the 2022 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings.