Three private colleges in the greater Philadelphia area are among the priciest to attend in the country according to the U.S. Department of Education’s latest College Affordability and Transparency list. But the local schools say the latest rankings unfairly characterize the cost of attendance.
The net price of attending Drexel University is $35,948 while St. Joseph’s University followed closely behind with a net price of $35,408, according to the latest figures for the 2011-2012 school year.
Muhlenberg College also made the list with the net price of attendance listed at $32,841.
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The figures put the three Philly-area schools above the $20,247 net price of attendance reported as the national average for all private, not-for-profit 4-year or more schools.
“But the formula inadvertently penalizes schools that administer financial aid the way we do,” said Joseph Lunardi, spokesman for St. Joseph’s.
Officials with Muhlenberg back up Lunardi’s critique.
“The flaw in the government’s list… is that they do a rather simplistic equation that simply takes total cost of attendance and subtracts average grant/scholarship to get a net price for aided students,” said Chris Hooker-Haring, Muhlenberg’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid.
Drexel officials did not return requests for comment.
Lunardi criticizes the study model, which calculates the net cost for the students who receive financial assistance from the institution, or federal, state or local governments and excludes everyone who does not receive aid.
The structure means a school will receive a higher-ranking if only a paltry number of students receive a free ride because that vastly lowers the cost of attendance for the small population receiving aid.
“Our mission is to try and make education as accessible as possible to the most number of families,” Lunardi said. “If you award fewer dollars to more recipients, you come out with a higher net price…while helping more families.”
According to the study, 96 percent of St. Joe’s undergrads received grant or scholarship aid.
At Drexel University, 98 percent of undergrads were awarded financial assistance, while 79 percent of Muhlenberg’s students were, the report shows.
“As with all such equations, you can decide how you are going to figure something, and then simply report out the results,” Hooker-Haring said. “But that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, or even an entirely accurate story.”
On the public side, seven of Penn State University's campuses make the highest net price of attendance list, as well as Temple University. In the Garden State, the College of New Jersey and the Richard Stockon College of New Jersey are the most expensive.
To see the full list of schools, visit the U.S. Department of Education's website.