By Henry Zhu
In response to the U.S. Congress’s 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) mandating that the cost of college attendance be publicly available information, the U.S. Department of Education recently launched a website that publishes a “college transparency and affordability” list for information on tuition and net prices at postsecondary institutions.
The HEOA attempts to enforce more transparency about tuition and net prices–the total cost of attendance minus the average amount of financial aid given–at universities across the nation, as well as the amount that states spend on post-secondary education and the amount of federal aid that institutions receive.
According to the website, Stanford is ranked 62nd on the list of the 65 private four-year colleges or universities with the highest tuition in the country. The list also includes several Ivy League schools.
As for Stanford’s transparency about its tuition and financial aid information, not much has changed since the act passed.
“Stanford has already had a longstanding practice of being completely transparent about costs,” said assistant vice president for University communications Lisa Lapin. “We always have complete disclosure of all of our fees and tuition. The act is not going to change the way we do business.”
On Stanford’s financial aid website, one can find a financial aid calculator which provides an estimate of the aid that Stanford would offer for an individual given their financial situation as well as what the net price of Stanford would be. Stanford also lists its tuition and fees publicly online.
Stanford is one of only about 40 universities in the country that are completely need-blind in the admissions process.
“Stanford University seeks to be accessible and affordable to all of the brightest and most promising students,” Lapin said. “To that end, Stanford offers significant financial aid to make a Stanford education possible, regardless of a student’s economic circumstances.”
“We welcome the Department of Education’s assistance in helping inform students and their families about the true costs of college, and in particular the costs of college after average financial aid is considered,” she added. “It will be important for families to consider the average ‘net price’ of any college and to inform themselves of financial aid options.”
Stanford’s total first-year tuition as listed by the Department of Education includes some one-time orientation fees as well as fees for student activities and health services that may not be required by other institutions. For the year reported, Stanford’s tuition was $37,380, the mandatory freshman orientation fee $438, the health service fee $501 and the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) fee was $357.
Stanford provides financial aid that encompasses the full cost of tuition for families with annual household incomes under $100,000 and adjusted aid for families with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000. The “net price” of attendance, which considers average financial aid packages, is $19,697 in the Department of Education report.
Although these numbers are readily available, some are still skeptical that the numbers will allow prospective students and their families to reach any definitive conclusions.
“At private universities, you don’t know what it really costs you unless you are extremely
wealthy or you don’t apply for financial aid,” said professor emeritus of education Michael Kirst, “There are really no tell-all figures or numbers given to the consumer public. There is a sticker price given, but not many people pay it, so it’s not that useful.”
“Nearly everyone is expecting a discount, in the form of a scholarship or federal/state-given aid, from the listed price, but we don’t know what that discount is ahead of time,” he continued. “And so, everyone gets their own bargain price; it’s like a negotiation with a Russian drug merchant.”
According to Kirst, Congress has indeed been trying to address this “notorious business” of private colleges or universities discounting the large majority of students who aren’t extremely wealthy. HEOA requires publication of calculated estimates of how much less than the full price one can expect to pay depending on his or her income bracket.