But that’s the “sticker price” — the cost you see listed on a school’s website, which includes tuition, fees, room, and board.
When you’re applying to schools, it’s more instructive to look at the net price of attending, or what families actually pay after factoring in financial aid, and federal grants like the Pell grant (which doesn’t have to be repaid).
In 2015, the average need-based scholarship at Yale was a generous $43,989, knocking off a substantial amount of that school’s sticker price. At Harvard, 65% of students receive scholarships, and the average need-based scholarship is $46,000.
These schools, along with the other Ivies, can offer such generous financial aid packages because they have extremely large endowments. Harvard’s endowment alone is worth $37.6 billion.
The New York Times explained in 2013:
Colleges generally spend 4 per cent to 5 per cent of their endowments per year on financial aid, prompting some administrators to cite this rough maths: Sustaining one poor student who needs $45,000 a year in aid requires $1 million in endowment devoted to that purpose; 100 of them require $100 million. Only the wealthiest schools can do that, and build new laboratories, renovate dining halls, provide small classes and bid for top professors.
But while the net price of attending an Ivy might be really low for low-income students, those students are still not enrolling at any college in very high numbers.
Only 45.5% of low-income high school students attended college in 2014 (the last year data was available), compared to 78.5% of high-income students, reports Higher Education Today.
One reason low-income students may not enroll in large numbers is that many schools don’t do a good job of publicizing the difference between the sticker price and the net price.
“You can make big statements about being accessible, and have need-blind admissions and really low net prices for low-income kids, but still enroll very few of those low-income kids, by doing minimal outreach … There has to be a commitment to go out and find them,” Catherine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar College, told The New York Times in 2013.
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