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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Yale tuition made headlines, but only the third most expensive private college in the state

    The cost of higher education continues to rise across the country, and tuition at Connecticut's private colleges and universities is no exception.

    The Ivy League Yale University in New Haven made headlines at the end of March when it announced the cost of attendance for the upcoming year would exceed $90,000, when totaling an undergraduate's tuition, fees, housing, food, books, other materials and personal expenses. But it's only the third most expensive private college in the state.

    When looking at undergraduate tuition, room and board, Yale's cost is $87,150. Five years ago, Yale cost $75,000 to attend.

    Wesleyan University in Middletown tops the list at $90,244, followed by Trinity College at $89,660, a more than $2,000 increase from the current year.

    Connecticut College in New London came in fourth using last year's figure of more than $82,000. The numbers for the upcoming year are not yet finalized, according to a spokesperson.

    "What we know is college is for many families an insurmountable cost, and the rising costs of tuition are reflective of a lot of factors," said Amy Dowell, executive director of think tank and policy advocacy group Education Reform Now CT.

    The state also has expensive public colleges and private high schools.

    The average private university in Connecticut costs 27 percent more than the national average, according to an Education Data Initiative report in November 2023. The report found the average cost to attend a private four-year college to be $58,707 a year, but data compiled by CT Insider found the majority of private universities or colleges in the state cost more than $60,000 for the upcoming school year.

    Only four of the state's 14 private, four-year programs was below that figure, including Goodwin College, which doesn't have a residential component and so rounds out the list at a little more than $21,100. The other three — Mitchell College, University of St. Joseph and University of Bridgeport — are all in the low- to mid-50s.

    The "sticker price" is much higher than what a student will actually pay, though, according to Jen Widness, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges. The CCIC represents 15 accredited nonprofit independent colleges and universities.

    The member institutions awarded more than $1 billion of institutional aid in 2022, according to CCIC data. Widness said these institutions make "a strong commitment to supporting diversity and access in higher education," saying that Yale is the "most affordable option for low-income students" in the state because of the aid it gives out.

    "Connecticut's independent colleges have been working to hold the line on cost, but the cost of doing business is up across the board and state aid has been reduced dramatically," Widness said.

    In a survey of state-sponsored student financial aid for the 2021-22 year, Connecticut ranked 46th in the nation, she added.

    "What we know is that Connecticut tends to be more expensive for a number of schools, public and private," Dowell said. "What's also really important to consider is, students they are accepting that are considered from low-income families, what we know is private schools have some of the lowest acceptance of Pell students."

    Pell Grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to low-income students who demonstrate extreme financial need. Connecticut's private colleges and universities across the board had two numbers of Pell students, meaning fewer people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can access higher education, a CT Insider report found last year.

    Widness said the amount of students receiving Pell Grants at CCIC schools increased 66 percent from 2009-2022.

    A few years ago, Fairfield University had the lowest percentage in the country of first-year students who received Pell grants at nearly 8 percent for the 2020-21 year. Tuition for the upcoming year will cost $74,260.

    The university has increased its merit and need-based aid more than 40 percent from the 2017-18 academic year to the 2022-23 academic year, according to Vice President of Strategic Enrollment Management Corry Unis.

    Pell alone is not the most representative factor for affordability, Unis said, adding schools' financial aid packages do not always have to meet a Pell student's full need. Fairfield University typically does, Unis said.

    "While Fairfield may not be the largest destination for Pell students, we are committed to providing high-need students with the financial and community support they need to graduate on time and with minimal debt," Unis said.

    The only other private school with tuition in the $70,000 range was Quinnipiac University at $72,740. Sacred Heart, University of New Haven, University of Hartford and Albertus Magnus will all charge tuition in the $60,000 range.

    The tuition at Albertus Magnus increased 4.8 percent, according to Media Communications Specialist Sarah Barr.

    "With nationwide inflation rates resulting in higher costs of services and goods, continuing to provide an excellent Albertus education and all that it offers is ever-more challenging," Barr said.

    The college's board of trustees is committed to providing robust financial aid and scholarship funding, Barr said, adding that the college has extended its enrollment deposit deadline and is working with students on a case-by-case basis because of issues with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid this year.

    Wesleyan, Trinity, Yale and Connecticut College did not respond to requests for comment.

    Dowell said colleges with large endowments should not be raising tuition. She added Yale, with its "staggering" endowment, "is in a position to make college more affordable, not less."

    Yale does a good job of using its endowment for grants and scholarships for low-income students, according to Anne Watkins. She is founder of Student Loan Fund, a Connecticut research group that works to cancel student debt, provide borrower support and advocate for policy changes.

    Schools that are not as well-endowed aren't able to do the same and often end up with less diverse student bodies, Watkins said.

    "We also know that people of color, first-generation students and low-income borrowers carry the highest burden with respect to student debt," she said.

    Loan servicers also profit from the high tuition, Watkins said.

    "I think private college is too expensive, of course," she said. "But why do we have a loan servicing industry that is benefiting on the backs of students? We want an educated populace. Why are we sacrificing our communities, our individuals, our collective souls for the benefit of the loan servicers?"

    Connecticut has the fifth-highest debt per borrower in the country, an average of $35,853, for the class of 2020, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. Watkins said the state was highest in the country when Student Loan Fund began its work in 2019. The organization would ultimately like to see public college be free.

    This legislative session, Education Reform Now CT focused its advocacy on legacy admissions practices, Dowell said. Student Loan Fund has successfully advocated the legislature for a student loan ombudsman.

    The bill that would have banned legacy admissions weakened as it progressed through the session and instead became a study, ultimately dying when the House failed to bring it to a vote. Schools that use legacy admissions must instead report data on the practice to lawmakers each year.

    Despite the cost, college is always worth it, Dowell said, because of the unique professional opportunities it provides.

    "But I think that college should be a place where institutions prioritize economic diversity in their student body," she said. "By making college stratospherically expensive for families, unless they're very wealthy, you're making a statement about who you actually want to matriculate at your school."

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