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Universities will be expensive this autumn, costing up to $95,000. However, schools say financial aid can help decrease the shock of the high price

As more than 2 million graduating high school students from across the United States finalize their decisions on which college to attend this fall, many are facing astonishing costs that can be as much as $95,000.

By NICK PERRY (Associated Press)

In the U.S., more than 2 million students who are graduating from high school are deciding which college to attend. The costs, in some cases, can be as high as $95,000.

This year, a number of private colleges, both elite and mid-tier, have set their annual costs for tuition, board, meals, and other expenses above $90,000 for the first time. This means that a wealthy family with three children could end up paying over $1 million by the time their youngest child completes a four-year degree.

The published price is only part of the story. Many colleges with significant funds have recently focused on making college more affordable for non-wealthy students. Low-income families may only be required to pay 10% of the advertised rate and, for some, attending a selective private college could end up being cheaper than a state institution.

Phillip Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley College, stated that $90,000 is a lot of money, but most people will not pay that much due to a generous financial aid system.

This fall, Wellesley's costs for wealthy students will surpass $90,000 for the first time, estimated at $92,000. However, the institution notes that nearly 60% of its students will receive financial aid, with an average amount of more than $62,000, reducing their costs by two-thirds.

Many potential students this year are experiencing significant delays and anxiety in finding out how much aid they will receive from colleges, due to major problems with a new U.S. Department of Education online form intended to simplify applying for federal aid.

Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert, described the rollout of the new aid application system as chaotic and disastrous.

Kantrowitz mentioned that in addition to repeated delays and problems, there are other issues with the new system, such as stricter identity verification requirements for parents, which are discouraging thousands of eligible but undocumented parents from applying, despite their children being U.S. citizens and entitled to aid.

Kantrowitz warned that if the sharp decline in aid applications under the new system persists, it could lead to lower enrollments and even compel some institutions to shut down.

Levine's research has revealed that the amount lower-income students pay at elite colleges has actually decreased over the past six years. However, he is concerned that the high prices may discourage some students from applying to institutions like Wellesley.

Levine emphasized that educational decisions should be based on the actual cost to be paid, not the perceived cost, as the sticker price is the most attention-grabbing number.

Apart from Wellesley, some other colleges have sticker prices over $90,000 this year. These include the University of Southern California at $95,000, Harvey Mudd College in California at $93,000, the University of Pennsylvania at $92,000, Brown University in Rhode Island at $92,000, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire at $91,000, and Boston University at $90,000.

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sets its cost of attendance this autumn at up to $91,000. However, it emphasizes that the average parent contribution is only $13,000, and almost a quarter of families pay nothing at all. Harvard can afford a very generous student aid program because it has an endowment worth over $50 billion, the largest of any university.

The sticker prices do not always give direct comparisons because some colleges include costs such as health insurance and travel expenses, while others do not. Some colleges that had sticker prices near $90,000 last year, including Columbia University in New York and the University of Chicago, have not yet revealed this year's expected costs.

According to the latest analysis by the College Board, the average advertised costs for private nonprofit colleges were about $60,000 last year, compared to approximately $29,000 for students at public in-state institutions and $47,000 at public out-of-state institutions.

Kantrowitz stated that the average unmet need for students at four-year colleges is around $10,000 per year.

“Therefore, families are forced to borrow that money or come up with that money from some other source, and that’s on top of their share of college costs,” he said.

So is college a good investment?

Kantrowitz believes the answer is yes, as long as students borrow in moderation and finish their studies.

“If you graduate and you don’t take on an excessive amount of debt, you should be able to repay that debt in a reasonable amount of time,” Kantrowitz said. “But if you drop out, you have the debt, but not the degree that can help you repay the debt.”

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