An Amazing Graph: The Real Cost of College vs. College Spending Per Student

Two-year for-profit schools spend 87 percent less per student than the most selective colleges, but for low-income students, they cost almost 200 percent more ...

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Consider this graph a coda for my earlier piece, "Why Smart Poor Students Don't Apply to Selective Colleges (And How to Fix It)". It's drawn from the appendix of a new paper by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery. The school categories -- "most competitive" through "for-profit 2-year" -- come from Barron's Profiles of Americans Colleges. (That book is controversial for many of the same reasons that every college guide is controversial, but it provides a good direction.)

You would think that schools that charge the most tuition would cost the most for all students and spending the most per students. Instead, richer schools tend to charge higher tuitions, which are paid fully by some students, but they also have more money to reduce the sticker price for low-income applicants. As Dylan Matthews said, high tuition prices creates a mental block for low-income students, since it's advertising a price that has nothing to do with final cost.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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