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What do Oregon students from low-income families really pay for college? Surprising statistics give clues
Author: Besty Hammond, The Oregonian
Posted: March 11, 2014
Click here for the original article.
Oregon students of modest means looking to hold down their college costs would do well to consider the University of OregonPortland State UniversityPortland Community College and Lewis & Clark College, according to college cost statistics compiled by leading education journalists.
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Low-income students who opt for the University of Portland, on the other hand, could end up paying a lot -- compared to other private universities and compared to what wealthy UP students pay, the statistics show. But the cost figures generated by UP officials are faulty, so the true costs for low-income students to attend the North Portland university won't be known until federal officials post revised figures later this month.

Oregon students from families with incomes below $48,000 can expect to pay about $11,500 at UO or PSU for total freshman year costs, including tuition, room, board and fees, after grants and scholarships are taken into account, according to the cost figures from 2011-12, the most recent available. That is true even though the full in-state sticker price at the two public universities is about $20,000.

Low-income students in Washington can bank on a far better deal. Washington residents from families earning $48,000 or less paid about $7,400 for their freshman year at the University of Washington in 2011-12, the figures show.

Private colleges, even with generous scholarships to award, are more expensive for low-income Oregon students. Freshmen with family incomes below $48,000 can expect to pay about $20,500 out of pocket to attend Willamette University or, according to data on federal government web sites, about $31,000 to attend the University of Portland.

But that net cost for UP is overstated. A computer coding error listed hundreds of UP students in the wrong family income categories, causing the North Portland university to submit years of inaccurate cost data to the U.S. Department of Education, UP financial aid director Janet Turner told The Oregonian Monday. The university will submit corrected data this week, and the feds have agreed to publish corrected statistics for the past two academic years, Turner said.

Since 2009, U.S. universities have been required to report not just their sticker prices but also the net college costs paid by students who receive any form of federal student aid, including grants, loans or work study.

Journalists at The Dallas Morning News, The Hechinger Report and other groups with top-notch education journalists compiled those statistics into a user-friendly searchable database and reported national trend stories about what the data show. They found that, as college costs have risen, students from low-income families are having to bear a disproportionate share of those increases.

Their work revealed there is not much variation in the average cost for students of modest means to attend Oregon's most popular four-year universities. UO and PSU, with the lowest costs among them, charge in-state students from low-income families about 15 percent less than Western Oregon University, where students with family incomes below $48,000 paid slightly more than $13,000 on average in 2011-12, figures show.

The same was true for community colleges, where the typical cost for a low-income student ranged about 14 percent from $7,600 at PCC to $8,700 at Lane Community College.

The costs for students from modest means to attend Oregon's most popular private universities can vary substantially, however.

Among students from any state with family incomes below $48,000, Lewis & Clark offered freshmen the lowest out-of-pocket costs, about $16,000, in 2011-12. Willamette's freshmen from the same income category paid 28 percent more, about $20,500, that year, the statistics show.

Students from high-income families also paid dramatically different amounts depending on the universities they chose.

Among private universities with at least 1,000 freshmen, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Gonzaga University in Spokane offered some of the biggest subsidies and lowest net costs. In 2011-12, freshmen with family incomes above $110,000 paid an average of $15,500 to attend Brigham Young and $30,800 to attend Gonzaga.

At the other end of the spectrum, students from families with incomes that high paid an average of $43,000 to attend the University of Southern California and $48,000 to attend New York University.

Oregon students from high-income families pay less than that to attend the state's public universities, but don't get much of a break, if any, from the sticker price. Freshmen with family incomes above $110,000 paid, on average, 96 percent of the full price of $20,000 to $22,000 to attend UO, Oregon State University or PSU in 2011-12.