NPR logo Like Fares On A Plane, College Tuition Bills Vary Widely

Higher Ed

Like Fares On A Plane, College Tuition Bills Vary Widely

Our friends over at Planet Money built this interactive graphic that illuminates yet another aspect of the Education Department's new College Scorecard. It shows the average annual price that families actually pay at 1,550 four-year colleges, by income.

As we've covered here on the blog, private colleges as a group are giving out big discounts to some students, but they also charge higher prices in the first place. That can create "sticker shock" that may cause some students to count themselves out of applying in the first place.

At public universities, on the other hand, the price is lower to start with, but doesn't vary as much by income.

This evenhandedness at public institutions may be a boon, especially to families making more than the median income, but less than $100,000 a year, who have been less able to take advantage of either Pell Grants or education tax credits.

Of course, your mileage may vary. This data reflects the price paid by students who take out federal loans or qualify for federal grants. If you're too flush to need aid, or if you don't qualify for it, it follows that you may be paying more out of pocket. That includes more than 800,000 students from overseas who enrolled in U.S. colleges in 2013-2014. (Some colleges do offer financial aid to international students, but in other places they pay full price).

It also doesn't necessarily reflect the prices paid by "the 1 percent." At Princeton University, for example, the graph tops out at $32,000 for tuition, room and board, and supplies for families making over $110,000. The estimated cost of attendance at Princeton: $63,420 for next year. Somebody must be paying that much — and without a lick of federal aid to help them.