College ranks highly, but at what cost?

The College has appeared on lists delineating the top public colleges in the U.S. It has also been featured on lists ranking the nation’s most expensive public colleges. (Graphic by Brianna Gunter)

Every year, the College ranks high on “Best College” lists and does well in reviews of higher education. These accomplishments are openly announced by the College and links to the reports can be found on the home page of the school website. What isn’t so openly announced, however, is that the College also frequently ranks high on another list — the most expensive public colleges in the United States.

Pricey tuition and fees are nothing new. In 2007 the College was listed at No. 10 of the most expensive public colleges, with undergraduate in-state tuition and fees being $11,307. For the 2009-2010 school year the College fell to No. 11, but prices still rose to $12,722 (its lower ranking therefore a result of other schools also raising tuition). These same tuition and fees then spiked to $13, 293 for the 2010-2011 school year, and based on this data, the College is currently ranked in the No. 8 spot on the list of most expensive public colleges.

Despite its expense, U.S. News & World Report ranks the College as the fourth-best regional school in the North, and it is the only public school in the top ten. U.S. News backed this up by referencing the College’s high selectivity and high retention rates, among other things. Forbes also highly ranks the College, placing it at No. 174 overall in its list of the top 20 percent (650 schools) in the nation.

The College is also in the top 100 “Best Value” colleges as ranked by the Princeton Review. Aside from Princeton University, it is the only New Jersey school to make the list. These rankings were announced in February however, long before the latest rise in tuition.

“We are in the same position as the last several years,” College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said in May 2011 when the next rise in tuition was being discussed. “We don’t know how many resources we will have. We can no longer cut back in areas where we have before.”

Gitenstein later announced in July that tuition would be raised $210 for full-time, in-state undergraduates and $421.50 for full-time, out-of-state undergraduate students for the

2011-2012 school year. The increase could have been more severe, but increased donations to the College and the discontinuation of certain scholarships along with other factors helped the Board of Trustees keep tuition rises at a minimum.

The actual price of a semester varies from student to student; out-of-state students are charged higher tuition than those with in-state residences (about $10,000 more according to the general estimates), students living on campus tend to pay more than those living off-campus and scholarship amounts vary. Additionally, graduate students and part-time students are paying different amounts.

Tuition rises affect almost everyone, however, and many students expressed their distress in an online survey distributed by The Signal to more than 100 students. Some entering their final year at the College pointed out that tuition and fees had risen by well over $1,000 since they first enrolled.

“A lot of people think that this school is so much cheaper than private schools, when in reality private schools tend to give their students a lot more money in scholarships, balancing it out,” wrote one College junior. “I remember applying to both public and private schools, and if I had gone to one of those private schools I’d actually have ended up paying around the same as (the College). I’m not sure what this means exactly in terms of (the College’s) value, but if tuition keeps spiking then I may regret my choice.”

Many students blamed the state for their costly education. Several students referenced governor Chris Christie’s controversial budget slashes from last year, voicing the impression that the politician does not seem to like public schools. Others recognized the overall costliness of New Jersey, which has some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Half of those surveyed nevertheless described the tuition and fees as being reasonable when considering the College’s value, even if they weren’t happy with the statistics.

“I did think I was saving money coming here, but even though I know now that I’m still going to be stuck with heavy loans to pay off, I’m really happy I was accepted to (the College),” wrote a College junior. “The beautiful campus and my friends and great classes make me not care so much about the expense.”