Students Value and Affordability

Myths About Attending College: Part I

College costs are out of control! Middle-class students will be financially ruined by going to college! Only the wealthy can afford a good liberal education!

The hype about college costs has generated many myths about higher education, and has driven them deeply into the collective consciousness—where they are wreaking havoc with parents and students trying to make difficult decisions about going to college. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has taken on nine of these myths,[1] and our first three blog entries of 2015 will spotlight them—three at a time.

Myth 1: Private colleges are not affordable, especially for the middle class

Untrue. Private colleges have dramatically increased their student aid budgets in order to remain affordable to students. The net cost to students and their families is often far less than the published prices of tuition and fees.

This year the published average cost of tuition and fees at private four-year institutions is $31,230, while the average net cost, after grants and financial aid, is $12,360. In other words, students receive, on average, $18,870 in grants and financial aid, which cover 60% of the cost. And the average net cost is about 15% lower today than it was in 2007-2008.[2] And these are only averages—many students qualify for substantially larger awards of financial assistance, making the education affordable even for those with very modest incomes or very heavy financial burdens.

Of course, there are some middle-class families whose circumstances and income make it difficult for their children to qualify for aid. And it has always been true that attending college is not inexpensive. But private colleges remain affordable for many students.

Myth 2: Federal student aid drives up college costs

Also untrue. Empirical studies conducted by academic and government economists over the past twenty years have shown that federal student aid has no causal relation to increasing college costs.[3]

Education is expensive. Putting students together with teachers in an intense learning environment cannot be done on the cheap, unless we are willing to accept substandard results. When students receive financial aid from external sources, whether from private sources or from the federal government, it reduces the amount of money colleges must raise by increasing tuition.

Myth 3: Private colleges are mainly for the wealthy, and have very little diversity

Also untrue. Four-year private colleges have the same percentage of minority undergraduates as four-year public institutions (26%).[4] They also have similar percentages of students from various economic backgrounds. Here is a small table:[5]

Family Income Table for SignPosts blog

All in all, diversity is just about the same at private and public colleges.

Next week, we will continue to debunk another three myths.


[1] NAICU- “9 Myths About Private Nonprofit Higher Education”

[2] College Board- “Trends in College Pricing”

[3] The Washington Post- “Why student aid is NOT driving up college costs”

[4] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, NPSAS: 2012.

[5] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:12), August 20, 2013 release.