Gross vs. Net in College Tuitions

How expensive are Virginia colleges and universities compared to their peers in other states? The cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies at four-year public Virginia colleges and universities in the 2016-17 school year averaged $26,904 — only a hair higher than the national average. This data is taken from a presentation by legislative fiscal analyst April Kees to the Senate Finance Committee this morning.

That chart above shows the sticker price for a year of college education. Lower-income students don’t pay the full freight. They receive big breaks in the form of financial aid from the state, Uncle Sam, and the institutions themselves. So, if your family generates income of $20,000 to $29,999 a year (2014-15 year numbers), your net cost of attendance drops considerably, as seen here in this chart comparing four Virginia institutions:

You get a ginormous break if you attend the College of William & Mary (CWM), which has the market power to jack up the tuition to raise more money for financial aid. You even get a hefty discount if you attend Radford University, the University of Virginia-Wise, or Virginia Tech (VT).

The massive redistribution of wealth provides major heartburn to Virginia’s upper middle class, which tends to pay the full tuition. In theory, the means-testing can be justified on the grounds that a college education provides an avenue of upward social mobility for poor and working-class Virginians who could not afford to attend otherwise.

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7 responses to “Gross vs. Net in College Tuitions”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well.. these numbers sort of undermine the idea of things unique to Virginia.

    For instance, if we are close to other states in the “sticker price” does that imply other states are also “jacking up ” prices to pay for low income – nationwide?

    And if Virginia is not contributing as much as it used to – to higher ed – does that imply the same thing going on in other states?

    I’m not sure Hispanics and Asians have the same cultural affinity for the “college experience” that the white middle class has… either.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I would like to see the same chart for a student coming from a family with $90-100,000 family income, which is very much middle class (even lower middle class) in areas like Northern VA. The example highlighted is extreme.

    And for those families that do fit the cohort that April highlighted, basically under $30k a year, if you have a child from a family that truly is “working poor”, what a crying shame they have to pay even that much. I’m willing to bet that 20 years ago qualified students in that circumstance could cobble together Pell and other grants and a work-study deal and pay very, very little to get through.

    I’m willing to bet the price super-inflation of the last two decades has hit them worse than it has hit the top income brackets. Takers on that bet?

  3. The two things middle class parents worry about are their own future resources (retirement income, housing, health care), and, getting their kids through college. All too often both goals cannot be satisfied (parents spend retirement resources or re-mortgage their home late in life to put Johnny through college).

    So what is our response to this evident need for help? Intensely redistributive “financial aid” policies to subsidize the cost of college attendance for those less well-off. In effect, this is government mandated, because all colleges (public and private) adhere to the same financial aid criteria, the same aid application process, the same aid award process, offer the same government-backed loans, and government spending on higher education assumes this redistribution is taking place. The financial aid process is a tax by another name.

    So why not admit this state of affairs and make the process of government support for higher education more rational, more fair, more consistent with our notion of where to draw the line between individual and government responsibility? I hear from conservatives all the time, “no more taxes.” But we are already being taxed, HEAVILY, by the way we fund higher education today even at so-called “private” institutions. And this tax upon parents is as progressive, as redistributive, as one could imagine. We don’t even pretend to justify this tax on the basis of the public benefits of having an educated, employable workforce; we only extract this tax from the OTHER PARENTS seeking to educate their children, based on their ability to pay. A straightforward funding of, at least, community college higher education through tax dollars paid by everyone enjoying the benefits of a thriving economy would make so much more sense. We pay tax dollars to offer without charge a public education fully through high school; what is different, in principle, about college?

    I am too conservative to be a fan of government-funded anything, except when it’s really necessary to have it and the private sector isn’t doing a good job of providing it. Please explain to me why higher education funding isn’t one of those exceptions!

  4. Acbar, I’m not really following what you are proposing for some reason. Are you saying community college should be funded just like secondary school (even though it is not compulsory)? How about 4 year college?

  5. djrippert Avatar

    “In theory, the means-testing can be justified on the grounds that a college education provides an avenue of upward social mobility for poor and working-class Virginians who could not afford to attend otherwise.”


    Almost all college students are poor adults. Virtually none of them make enough money to pay their own bills while they attend college. So, they either get money from their parents, borrow money or have the institutions “tax” one set of students’ parents to subsidize adult students. What your “theory” holds is that parents of adult children should have their wealth redistributed to support the adult children of less fortunate parents.

    College is a choice, not a right. There are many avenues available for students to borrow the money required to fund a college education. If the students who borrow the money stay focused and graduate with decent grades they should be able to repay the loans from their increased earnings power.

    This theory holds that a Fairfax County couple where husband and wife are high school teachers should subsidize an adult attending Virginia Tech to study engineering. The engineering student will graduate and by age 27 make more more money than both the high school teachers combined. But the little snivelling dearie shouldn’t have been asked to borrow the money and repay it because it’s apparently better in the minds of SJWs to tax the middle class.

    Higher education in America is increasingly becoming a shambolic house of cards designed to allow the liberal elite to pursue ever more wealth redistribution schemes outside of the purview of elected representatives.

  6. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I agree generally with Don’s comments.

    I would also add that the basic unfairness of the current system is compounded by several additional tragedies. For example, far too often one of the kids involved in the redistribution scheme, and sometimes both kids, the poor and affluent alike, will learn 1/ nothing in college, and/or 2/ far less than the value of its cost in time and money, and/or 3/ the experience of one or both students will do them more harm than good.

    In short, our “system of higher education” in this country needs to be totally revamped, if only to deal with vastly changed realities that now confront students, parents, institutions, and society generally today.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Another way to interpret these comments is that the great bulk of the NET REDISTRIBUTION of funds is now flowing out of the pockets of the students, their parents, the taxpayers, and the state and Federal governments into the pockets of corrupt colleges and universities, most particularly most of their upper tier Administrators and highly paid tenured professors who have built this bloated and highly inefficient system to satisfy their ambitions at the expense of most everyone else.

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