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Special Report: Tuition Tricks

Everywhere you turn, reports suggest the cost of a college education is rising...but is it really? 
 
Colleges and universities are reporting higher costs although last year's increase at public colleges and universities, according to the College Board, was the smallest in years.

They're still listing higher published rates but we've learned what colleges list as their published rates and what a student actually pays are two very different things.

Anna Dillon of Hendersonville chose Mars Hill University where they list their tuition at $11,576 per semester.  Add food and housing and the yearly cost is listed at $34,184.

But the sticker shock isn't limited to private universities.

Luna Rutkowski, UNC-Asheville student,  "I get actually all of my tuition paid by grants and scholarships from UNC Asheville and also from the federal government." 

Rutkowski is one of the lucky ones at the state supported public university.

UNC Asheville tuition and fees break down like this:
2013-2014 (per semester)
$3,120.50 for in state students
$10,031.50 for out of state students
Tuition - $6,241.00
Room - $4,522.00
Meals - $3,450.00
Total - $14,213.00

Pierce Holloway is also a freshman at UNCA, but Pierce is paying full price, "I know some people that got lucky and got scholarships and grants."

According to UNCA's fact book more than 66-percent of its 3587 students received financial aid, with the average award more than $10,000, aid that amounts to a huge discount.

Dr. Dan Lunsford, Mars Hill University President, "and yes we have to publish a price and yes it's out there, but 98-percent of our population, 98-percent of 1226 last fall, 98-percent didn't pay that."

A discount for even greater numbers of students at private universities like Mars Hill.

Dr. Lunsford is the first to admit it's a lot like buying a car, "but how many of us will routinely go to any car dealership and go in expecting to pay the sticker price?"

He says students and parents have come to expect a discount, "families are expecting that their child or their student deserves monies because."  Because they have good grades, are top in their class, or have athletic talent.

"So we are in this model of where we have a price.  That price is to reflect our investment in that financial aid."

Dr. Lunsford says endowments created for scholarships that often target certain disciplines are part of the reason for the inflated sticker price.

He says removing the endowments and financial aid would hurt the school's growth and student opportunities for something he says is well worth it.

"The economic capacity and ability of people is always going to be increased by elevating their level of education."  An education whose price may seem a little confusing.

"I think it's kind of deceiving obviously.  People prepare for a certain amount of money because school is very expensive."

"What's frustrating is the criteria on which you get the money, like if you can play a sport or something like that.  I'm here purely for academic reasons but there are athletes that are getting more money than I am."

Money for a price tag that shouldn't keep you from at least trying.

"Unequivocally.  You are exactly right.  Because what we always say to families is yes this is our sticker price but don't be alarmed, let us work with you based on data you give us and we'll show you what the net cost will be."

To give you an example of how endowments alter the pricing picture, Mars Hill has 197 endowed scholarships.  This year, about $1.5 million will flow from those endowments to pay for tuition discounts.             

 



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