Why the Sticker Price of College Is Really Important

The parents of college-age children have some pretty interesting ideas college costs. Big takeaway: the sticker price of college matters a lot.

According to an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed:

Only about 16 percent of parents are sure they won’t restrict colleges to which their children will apply because of concerns about costs (although another 14 percent said that it was “not very likely” that they would do so), the results show. Parents are also likelier to see vocational certificates than liberal arts degrees as leading to good jobs for their children — and they view job preparation as the top role for higher education.

About two-thirds of parents say they are “very likely or somewhat likely” to prevent their children from applying to certain colleges because of cost (or, well, the stated cost). So the students will never apply and never see if the school can offer a good financial aid package.

This comes from a poll of parents performed by Inside Higher Ed in conjunction with Gallup.

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, told Jaschik that the information should be “a wake-up call” to colleges.

“We have to get people past this affordability mental block,” he said. He said that there is a “tremendous amount of aid” being offered by colleges where the sticker price has very little relationship to what most students pay. Somehow colleges have failed to make people understand this, and parents are a crucial audience to reach, he said.

That might be because the high-tuition, high-aid financial aid policies colleges have used for many years are confusing and aren’t an effective way to get low or even moderate-income students to apply to college.

Parents want to know what college will cost them; that’s how they make financial plans and decide what they can afford. Promising them vaguely that there’s a “tremendous amount of aid” available isn’t really that helpful. Parents just want to how much they’re going to have to pay.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer