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The Price You Pay for College

I don’t buy a lot of books. It’s not because I don’t read (as you can see here), but because my wife, as a librarian, has access to thousands of books and is constantly on the lookout for me.

Recently, though, I finished the book “The Price You Pay for College” by Ron Lieber, returned it to the library, and bought my own copy the very next day.

As you might expect from the title, Lieber breaks down college costs and where the money goes (surprisingly to me, on average 77% of the money goes directly towards teaching students, including staffing), but covers so much more as well, including:

  • Financial Aid
  • Scholarships, specifically a newer phenomenon called merit aid
  • The emotional impact on both kids and parents of not getting into, or not being able to afford, the school of the child’s dreams
  • What you should and shouldn’t be willing to pay up for
  • Public vs. Private schools
  • Money saving “hacks” like community college, honors colleges, gap years, and enlisting in the military
  • The cost of skipping college altogether

I even learned something that made me feel better about my impending expenses. While tuition and fees have increased between 144% and 212% (based on factors like public vs. private, in-state vs. out of state, etc.) over the last 20 years, the actual amount paid by in-state students at four-year public universities has only gone up 70% in that same time period – roughly 2.69%, not much more than the rate of inflation over the same time period. For private colleges, the news is even better, rising just 21% over the last 20 years – less than 0.96% per year!

You might be asking, how is that possible? It’s because just about 90% pay less, in many cases substantially less, than the school’s “list price”. According to one study, between scholarships, need-based financial aid, and merit aid, the average student got a discount of more than 52%!

While I think this book will be valuable as a professional reference, as the dad of two 8th graders, it will be more important in my personal life. In fact, the book suggests having the first financial conversation about college with students after 8th grade, specifically drawing a line from high school grades to scholarships, aid, and the overall cost of college.

I think “The Price You Pay for College” would be a great read for parents, grandparents, or even a motivated high school student looking to maximize the value of their college education.


Photo by Shubham Sharan on Unsplash