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