You can do a lot of things with $70,000.
You can buy a brand new Dodge Charger, Ford F-250 or Mercedes SUV. Or you can go on vacation for nearly a month, hopping around to various cities on various continents.
Then again, maybe you’d want to spend just two nights in luxury, in a suite at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City.
Or, you could spend not-quite-a-year studying at one of 13 private colleges in Massachusetts.
In the latest jaw-dropping sign of the escalating cost of a college education, the Boston Business Journal last week surveyed the sticker prices of the state’s colleges and universities and found 13 where the cost to attend is at least $70,000.
Topping the list was Amherst College ($73,966), followed by Tufts University ($73,500) and Brandeis ($73,335). Harvard comes in at No. 10, at $71,650 per year. MIT just clears the $70k threshold with a cost of attendance at $70,240 per year.
All schools on the lux list are private, based on data gathered by the federal government and reflecting the last academic year (2018-19).
The bulging price tags for college — covering everything from tuition, fees, books, room and board — is not new news. Costs have been jumping for years. The Business Journal cited federal data that show costs have risen nearly 21% over the decade beginning in 2006-07, outpacing the rate of inflation in the same period by at least 2%.
And the phenomenon is not limited to the most elite colleges and universities. The full-boat price of attending Salem State University during the last academic year was $27,384 for an in-state student living on campus — a 4.4% increase from the previous year, according to the government’s National Center for Education Statistics. For students at Merrimack College, the cost was $60,055 per year. At the University of New Hampshire, it was $33,750 annually for an in-state student living in the dorms.
Granted, the sticker price and what a student actually pays are usually vastly different.
The average net price at Salem State for the 2017-18 school year, for example, was $17,782 — about two-thirds of the overall sticker price for in-state students. At Merrimack College the same year — where every beginning undergraduate got some form of grant or scholarship — the average actual expense was less than 60% the list price.
But, no matter which number you track, the trends are the same and headed in the same direction. And that translates into greater debt for students and their families — and a larger pool of people who simply cannot afford it.
With these kinds of reports, it’s little wonder the cost of college has become a hot-button issue in the Democratic primary. Plans to address it range from the practical (expanding the pool of financial aid to help more students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds) to the magical (free college for everyone).
The problem, however, isn’t just with how to pay for a higher education. It’s with the origin of those ever-growing costs.
Among other things, that underscores the importance of affordable alternatives that make a higher education attainable to most everyone. Those choices are best represented not even by public colleges and universities as much as the community college system.
The cost of attending Northern Essex Community College in the last academic year was $20,354 for an in-state student, with the estimated cost of room and board representing more than two-thirds of that expense. Hold out housing and food, and the tuition, fees, books and supplies for an in-state student were $6,536, according to the federal data. At North Shore Community College in Danvers, the numbers were nearly identical.
Students who receive two-year degrees at those colleges before transferring to a four-year school receive an education at a considerable discount — and ultimately earn the same bachelor’s degree. Many others graduate from a community college ready to enter the working world.
Those are great alternatives. But they don’t solve the broader issue of out-of-control costs of higher education now symbolized by degrees with sticker prices in excess of a quarter-million dollars.
For more details about the costs of specific colleges and universities, visit nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator