The slow but painful escalation of college tuition each fall is a given, even in a shaky economy. This year, college costs are again on the rise, says the latest report from the College Board, a higher-education membership association based in New York. According to the report, released on Oct. 26, the average published cost of annual tuition and fees at private four-year colleges is $28,500, up 4.5 percent from last year. Room and board drives that figure up to $38,589.
At public four-year colleges, the cost is 8.3 percent higher than last year, with in-state tuition averaging $8,244. Out-of-state tuition averages $20,770 a 5.7 percent increase over last year.
Which institutions out there have the potential to break the bank? Using the College Board's database of self-reported numbers from 3,924 colleges and universities, Bloomberg Businessweek has compiled a list of the nation's 50 costliest colleges and universities, ranked from the highest tuition and fees to the lowest.
This year, Columbia University in New York City—the third most expensive school in our 2010 ranking—rose to the No. 1 spot as the school with the highest tuition and fees, clocking in at $45,290, a nearly 5 percent increase from a year earlier.
However, tuition and fees make up just one part of the overall financial picture. At most schools, the total annual cost of attending the institution, a figure that includes room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation, can easily add $12,000 or more to the bill. Of the 50 schools on our list, the median annual cost was $57,215. Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., is overall the priciest school on our list, with annual costs totaling $60,570, up $1,786 from 2010.
While these numbers may seem high, financial aid packages and scholarships can help offset the sticker shock. The median financial aid package at these 50 schools is $35,264, a more than 60 percent discount off total costs. Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., offered the most generous financial aid package of the schools listed, giving students on average $41,672 in assistance.
Our ranking is based on out-of-state tuition and fees for the 2011-12 academic year. Where multiple schools at a single university or university system reported different costs, only the school with the highest tuition is listed. Our list is limited to schools accessible to the majority of college-bound students. To provide a more complete picture of what families typically pay for college, we've included data on room and board, books and supplies, estimated personal expenses, and transportation expenses, as well as financial aid.