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The real price of college: from NPR's Planet Money

What's wrapped up in the cost of college in the U.S., and why is the sticker price so much higher than what most students end up paying?

Photo of Joanna Spoth

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Planet Money takes a look at the The Real Price of College. Take 10 minutes to listen! The price you see on colleges is often much higher than every student at the college pays, once grants and scholarships are accounted for. At Lafayette College, less than half of all students pay full price. So WHY does the sticker price remain so high? Because in one way or another, the sticker price is a measure of the quality of education for families. The high sticker price allows colleges to be more creative in the way they award scholarships and financial aid. 

Students able to pay the full price do. Students who can't are offered a discounted price that reflects their ability to pay.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How might we reimagine the cost of college so that "cost" is not measured in the price tag but other metrics such as diversity brought to the program, jobs achieved after graduation, etc.?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Joanna! Thanks for sharing this great insight. Something that caught my attention is the discussion about using the sticker price as a way to increase diversity. In US, diversity in universities seem to be a hot topic. I have been heard a lot about the university strategies to balance the number of men and women, national and international, etc. This is something completely new for me. In Brazil the selection process is totally based on the students' scores on the national exam, so there is no way to influence the diversity (what generate other problems). But, I am wondering how much US universities really promote diversity. When I analyze NYU students, there is seem to be a "normal" profile. So, Anne-Laure reflected, does this system really support true diversity?

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Izabela,

Really interesting provocations! Diversity in U.S. colleges and universities is a hot topic right now. The term diversity can encompass many different factors, but in the typical college discussion it's referring to socioeconomic status and/or minority populations in the U.S. If we think about the socioeconomic status, the sticker price of school would definitely play a role in whether those families see college as accessible. The university system in the U.S. as it stands does not support a diverse student population - and that's one big thing this challenge is tackling! How might we make college accessible for EVERY student in the U.S.?

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

What would it take for the Ivy League's student body to be representative of the U.S. population rather than be a socio-economic snapshot? Is that a good goal?

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Trevor - YES!

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