July 15, 2011 by Laura DiSanto
CNNMoney.com recently ranked Drexel University as one of the top 10 least affordable colleges, based on information obtained from a college cost database launched by the U.S. Department of Education.
The Department of Education unveiled its new College Affordability and Transparency Center June 30 with the intention of informing students and their families about the costs of higher education. Multiple lists were released as a result of the interactive tool, including highest and lowest tuition fees, highest and lowest net costs and highest percentage increases in net cost.
For the list of top 10 least affordable colleges compiled on CNNMoney.com, only private, nonprofit four-year schools in the United States with undergraduate enrollments of 5,000 or more were considered for ranking. Drexel ranked seventh, with a listed net price of $31,832. The net price calculated for each school takes into consideration the average tuition, room and board, textbook costs and financial aid.
Joan McDonald, senior vice president for Enrollment Management, explained how spending is impacted by the University’s non-profit status.
“As a nonprofit, it means that we’re here to serve a mission. We’re not here to increase shareholders’ stock value,” McDonald said. “ If we happen to have more tuition revenue than expenses, those additional dollars are put back into the University.”
Also on the top 10 list was Philadelphia-based St. Joseph’s University, coming in third place with a net price of $34,548. The New School, located in New York City, topped the list, costing $39,004 per year. Of all the colleges on the list, Drexel had the highest percentage of students with financial aid: 99 percent.
McDonald stressed that affordability is “a very important issue for the University.” She said that one way in which the University assesses its affordability is to closely watch graduates’ starting salaries and “make sure that tuition isn’t beginning to outstrip starting salaries,” as most students rely on loans to finance their education.
According to CNNMoney.com, colleges were responsible for submitting data to the Department of Education, and prices listed in the database reflect the 2008-09 school year.
Drexel’s cost of tuition as reported in the College Affordability and Transparency Center reflects the annual cost for a five-year, three co-op student. However, for a four-year student beginning in the 2008-09 school year, tuition rates were closer to $37,000. There is no mention of Drexel’s five-year co-op program in the Department of Education database. When considering the cost of tuition for a student’s full tenure in college, Drexel actually costs almost $15,000 more than The New School.
McDonald emphasized the benefits of Drexel’s co-op program, both in terms of alleviating financial costs and providing a valuable experience to students.
“[Drexel tuition] adds up to a very significant investment on the part of the students, but the value that’s there in terms of the payoff is really what’s important. We keep an eye on the activity with co-op placement. And when you’re thinking about Drexel and affordability, you have to say, ‘Well, for three years our students are going to earn, on average, $15,000 a year on co-op,’” McDonald said.
She added that while databases regarding college costs such as the Affordability and Transparency Lists are a helpful tool as students try to make informed decisions about which college to attend, it is equally important to speak to current students about their education at Drexel.
“The best thing for anybody looking at a university is to come and talk with current students. We would not be growing, and have 38,000 applicants, if our current students weren’t satisfied with this experience,” McDonald said.
According to a press release from the Department of Education, the College Affordability and Transparency Lists were a direct result of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which aimed to “make college costs more transparent and to boost college affordability and accessibility.”
“We hope this information will encourage schools to continue their efforts to make the costs of college more transparent so students make informed decisions and aren’t saddled with unmanageable debt,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the press release.