Of Ivy League Tuition and Fees

I just read a somewhat depressing news release from the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid announcing costs for attending the university for the 2015-2016 school year.  Tuition will increase 3.9%, from $42,176 to $43,838.  Add in books, fees, room and board, and next year will cost an undergraduate $64,000.  That doesn’t even include personal expenses or travel to and from campus.  This is just shocking to me.  When I attended in the early 1990s, the all-in cost was just under $20,000, and at the time that seemed insane.

In Penn’s defense, there costs seem rather in-line with peer universities.  Stanford punches in higher at about $67,000.  University of Chicago comes in at $61,000.  It is just shocking to me that the price tag for college (or at least a certain set of colleges), clocks in at quarter of a million dollars.  To be fair, the universities all seem to go to great pains to explain their financial aid packages, including some generous tuition waiver packages for families earning under a certain threshold.

Is any of this worth it?  Color me skeptical.  At UBS, Deloitte Consulting, and JP Morgan, I’ve seen successful individuals from a wide variety of educational backgrounds.  On the flip side, I know of people who struggle somewhat despite a Penn or Stanford or similar elite education.

A UBS colleague recently told me her daughter was interested in Penn.  Fantastic!  I loved Penn, and even though it is a far different place from when I left in ’93 (I doubt students wait in line today to use PCs in the computer lab), it is still a top level institution where some of the smartest, hardest working students come to live and learn and grow together.  It is a phenomenal institution in a great city.  All that said, I have a tough time saying Penn is so uniquely special that it is not worth considering a lower-priced alternative.  This same UBS colleague’s student as earned a full scholarship to the University of Illinois, as well as a near-full scholarship to Chicago’s Loyola university.

In this situation, I am well aware that the parents are well-paid professionals.  I am not sure if the intention would be to shoulder the whole bill themselves, or if they expect their daughter to borrow and/or work.  I don’t think they know the answer to this, either.  But I couldn’t in good conscience point out that they don’t have some wonderful (and sane) alternatives.  U of Illinois and Loyola are also great schools.  Hard to imagine the long-term difference between Loyola of Chicago and Penn being $200 thousand+.

— Tim Shields


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