IPEDS Data Feedback Report 2012: Finances

I won’t even begin to pretend that obtaining a higher education is inexpensive. Perhaps it was at some point in American history, but for a number of reasons this is not currently the case for too many students. This is not to say that the cost of a higher education lacks value, is unreasonable, or even out of reach.


Above we see figure 4 showing changes in tuition and fees over time. Two things jump out at me here. First off, costs of attending USAO are about half of what it would cost to attend a similar university elsewhere. This is fairly consistent over time. The other salient point is the rate of change over time. Over the four (4) years considered in this report, USAO’s tuition and fees have increased by about 5%. This contrasts favorably to the comparison group’s more than 20% increase over the same time period.


This next chart compares the net price of attendance. This figure is considerably different than the tuition and fees figures from the previous graph. It includes other costs of attendance like room and board (rent and groceries for students living off campus). It also includes the projected costs of books, transportation and other expenses associated with attending university. In addition to these other costs, the net price calculation also includes the value of any grants and scholarships student might receive to make college more affordable. Once we take all these figures into account (pluses and minuses) we arrive at this estimate of what the typical student ends up paying (figure excludes student loans).

Looking at the chart reveals an interesting story about USAO. While the net price of attendance at similar universities has increased about 11% over this three year period, the same figure for USAO has actually decreased by about the same percentage.

Some of our more skeptical readers may wonder about this. We have been inundated by reports of the ever increasing cost of higher education; a claim that costs at USAO have actually decreased seem less than credible in that context. You may also note that in figure 4 USAO reports an increase in tuition and fees, but figure 5 reports a decrease in net price. How can both these statements be true? A number of factors come into play, but this apparent discrepancy can easily be reconciled by increases in grant funding.


This last figure for today’s entry provides more detail about exactly what kinds of aid students receive to help them meet the costs of higher education. A quick glance reveals pretty big differences between USAO and our comparison group. Overall, it looks like:

  1. A bigger fraction of USAO students receive some sort of grant aid
  2. A smaller fraction of USAO students use loans to pay for classes
  3. A larger fraction of USAO student receive institutional grants

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