College Costs Less Than People Think, Study Finds
Americans believe a college education is vitally important for their children, but they are poorly informed about the costs and how to finance them, a report released last week says.
The respondents to a survey by the American Council on Education estimated that tuition at a four-year public college would cost an average of $9,694 a year; in fact, the average cost is $3,111, according to the ACE.
For private colleges, the respondents put the average annual tuition at $17,897; the actual figure is $13,664.
"We were not surprised by the fact that there was an information gap, but by the magnitude of the gap," ACE President Stanley O. Ikenberry said.
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That gap could lead to misperceptions about the affordability of higher education, Mr. Ikenberry said, especially among members of minority groups that are underrepresented in college.
"That's the most worrisome thing," he said.
The ace, a Washington-based umbrella organization for 1,600 U.S. colleges and universities and 200 national and regional higher education groups, surveyed 1,200 parents through focus groups in eight cities and conducted telephone interviews with 2,000 randomly selected adults between the ages of 21 and 70.
The survey found that 71 percent of respondents worry that college is not affordable. Among African-Americans and Hispanics, the figures were 83 percent and 79 percent, respectively.
"The media has certainly scared people by quoting figures from a handful of colleges, and parents generalize," said Mark Sklarow, the executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association in Fairfax, Va., which represents private educational counselors. "Parents think they have the information they need without realizing the information they have is faulty."
Maze of Information
The report, "Too Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing," also shows that the public does not know how much financial aid is available, where it comes from, or how to obtain it.
The respondents cited businesses as the main source of financial aid, then colleges and universities, and finally the federal government, said Laura Wilson, an ACE spokeswoman. Furthermore, they estimated that there are several billion dollars available in aid each year.
In fact, the federal government provides $40 billion a year in aid and loans. An additional $10 billion comes from other various sources.
Though information on college costs is located at public libraries, bookstores, and on the Internet, navigating the maze of literature is often frustrating, said Patricia J. Martin, a senior program manager at the Education Trust Inc., a nonprofit think tank in Washington that advocates high standards and equality in education.
Finding answers is even more difficult for those first-generation college students who are new to the college-application process, Ms. Martin said.
"There is nobody at home or in the community who can provide those kids support," she said.
Moreover, students who are not enrolled in college-prep courses could also be at a disadvantage, because they may miss general information provided to those in Advanced Placement classes, Martin said.
Mr. Ikenberry said the ACE will spend the next two to three months developing a plan to better inform the public of college costs and financial-aid opportunities.
"We're not sure we're getting good information through the high schools, and I don't think we're using technology as creatively as we could," he said.
Vol. 17, Issue 38, Page 5Published in Print: June 3, 1998, as College Costs Less Than People Think, Study Finds