Your $60,000-per-Year College Is Actually a Great Deal, Says College Administrator

The cost of attending a private university is on the rise, but don't get frustrated, be appreciative; you're actually getting discount.

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The cost of attending a private university like Duke is on the rise, trending toward $60,000 a year, when you add in tuition, fees, and room and board. But don't get frustrated, be appreciative; that's actually a wholesale discount.

The real monetary burden of a student to the university is closer to $90,000, according to Jim Roberts, Duke's executive vice provost. Between financial aid, faculty costs, building repairs, and administration staff, the full fare paid by students only accounts for just two-thirds of how much the school spends on each student. Fundraising from rich alumni — like Harvard's $150 million donation on Wednesday — and other investments help bridge that gap.

That cost per student that Duke presents does seem extreme, though. In 2009, the average cost that U.S. private universities spent on each student was about $36,000, The New York Times wrote, a far cry from Duke's number. It's possible Duke is an outlier at the very extreme of how much it spends per student, though. Meanwhile, the trend at public universities and colleges has been to spend less per student, and that number is now at its lowest level in 25 years, according to a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers. That drop was largely due to sharp state budget cuts in education and only a slight drop in enrollment. (Like many private schools, Duke's student population is quite small.) Only some of those costs have been offset by rising tuitions at public universities.

None of the costs that Duke lays out appear egregious, especially considering about half of the cost goes to financial aid and faculty. A little under half of Duke students don't pay the full tuition, and instead get financial aid, loans, grants, or scholarships to help pave the way. Those that are actually paying the full cost, though, are indeed subsidizing the less fortunate students. $20,000 — a third of the full cost of attending — goes to supporting students on financial aid, according to Duke. About $21,000 goes to pay faculty salaries as well.

So for you college students out there who don't want to feel ripped off, be sure to take full advantage of those expensive professors, labs, and talks. Yes, that means you have to get out of bed and go to class before noon.

(Top image: Steven Frame via Shutterstock)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.