Are Private Colleges Too Expensive?

Most people believe that private college tuition is astronomical while public college tuition is always affordable. This may be true in some cases, but certainly not all. Let me use my own institution, Daemen College, as an example, with the understanding that most private colleges operate in similar ways.

A parent recently asked me, "Why should I send my daughter to Daemen for $25,995 a year when I could send her to a public institution for $9,333?" This is a good question, and there are good reasons why she might choose to send her daughter to a private college.

First, practically no one pays a college's advertised rate, and a given student at a private college may in the end pay less than at the public institution. Let me explain. A full 94 percent of Daemen's full-time undergraduates receive financial assistance, and the average package is worth $26,313 per year.

Take Steve, for example, a first-year commuter student with minimal financial need (as defined by a federal formula). He receives a $14,000 Daemen Trustee Scholarship (which is a merit-based grant) and federal loans, bringing his actual tuition cost down to $6,728 for the 2015-16 academic year.

Amanda, a first-year residential student with significant financial need, receives $13,200 in Daemen merit and need-based grants. The remainder of her aid package includes various state and federal aid, bringing her tuition down to $2,679 for the academic year.

And then there is Denise, a first-year commuter student with medium financial need. She received a competitive, full-tuition Daemen Trustee Scholarship, bringing her tuition to zero.

All three of these are actual students (with changed names) and the actual amounts they pay, and they will have the same or similar discounted rates for their entire time at Daemen.

Private colleges are able to offer students funding that public institutions rarely can provide. At Daemen, all students who meet entrance qualifications are granted some kind of merit scholarship based on the student's academic achievement (high school grade point average, SAT scores and so on).

And while not every student at Daemen pays less than what he or she might have at a public institution, the differential may well be worth it. Private colleges often offer a level of personal attention to and support of students that would be unheard of in large public institutions, not to mention smaller class sizes. Many parents believe that it is worth paying a bit more for an especially warm and supportive environment.

So, while it is true that the published tuition rates of private colleges will typically exceed that of the in-state tuition rates of a public institution, most independent colleges work closely with prospective students and their families to craft the most affordable aid package given their specific financial situation.

NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the Buffalo News.