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Vanderbilt will soon cost $100,000 a year for some students. How did we get here?

David Brancaccio and Nic Perez Apr 8, 2024
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The cost for some students at Vanderbilt University for the 2024-25 school year? North of $98,000. BugsMeanee via Wikimedia Commons

Vanderbilt will soon cost $100,000 a year for some students. How did we get here?

David Brancaccio and Nic Perez Apr 8, 2024
Heard on:
The cost for some students at Vanderbilt University for the 2024-25 school year? North of $98,000. BugsMeanee via Wikimedia Commons
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COPY

You may have to shield your eyes. No, we’re not talking about Monday’s solar eclipse, though please do wear the appropriate glasses. We’re talking about the costs of college tuition in this country, which are — frankly — eye-popping.

And a particularly eye-popping figure is coming out of Nashville, Tennessee. Starting this fall, Vanderbilt University will have a sticker price of nearly $100,000 for some students.

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for the New York Times. He’s also author of the book “The Price You Pay for College” and put together an online course to teach parents and students about the process of getting merit-based aid. (It costs money, but less than $100,000.)

Lieber recently wrote about Vanderbilt’s tuition costs. He joined “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio to discuss his reporting and what it says about college affordability more broadly.

David Brancaccio: $98,426 at Vanderbilt. That included getting a powerful laptop computer that an incoming engineering undergrad might need. But you saw the calculation for an actual student?

Ron Lieber: I did indeed. These award letters go out every spring with the office of admission, and I have seen the numbers.

Brancaccio: All right, one school. But I mean, I want to point out that the average official price of private college is $56,190 at a private place and $24,000 at a public campus. I mean, you’ve written about this. Many people do not pay that.

Lieber: This is true. There are all sorts of discounts that go on. And then there’s this whole crazy category of merit aid that may depend on your grades or your extracurriculars or all sorts of other things, depending on the school’s institutional priorities in any given year — or any given month even, if they’re desperate to get heads in beds.

Brancaccio: Now, you point the following out in your piece: I mean, wealthy families paying a lot for high-end services. I mean, that’s what wealthy families can do, but you think the bigger problem lies elsewhere?

Lieber: Yeah, I mean, we’re on a program called “Marketplace [Morning Report]” here, right? And whatever your issues are with the higher education system — and there are many issues — there is a lot of consumer choice, and nobody has to pay a $100,000 rack rate. So a far bigger issue that we have here in America is just affordability generally.

Brancaccio: They [Vanderbilt] have many students who don’t pay that full rate, and there’s a new pledge over there, right? Families who make $150,000 or less would pay no tuition. I mean, they still have the laptops and room and board and travel. We should point that out for fairness.

Lieber: Oh, absolutely. Vanderbilt’s need-based financial aid system and the rules around it and the eligibility is among the most generous in all of the land. But the problem they face is that that list price is still the list price, and $98,000 and change before travel cost is a much easier thing to understand then, “No, no, no, no. This price isn’t real. Your price is going to be something much lower, but you’ve got to give us a bunch of financial information and wait a whole bunch of time.” And it sounds like a 30-second commercial for carpet cleaning, right?

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