Penn tuition has a reputation for being excessively pricey — but experts think otherwise.
The University was recently ranked eighth on Kiplinger’s 2009-2010 list for Best Values in Private Universities, which considers academic quality and availability of financial aid, among other indicators.
That same week, Penn was also noticeably absent from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of the 58 colleges and universities charging $50,000 or more, which only included two of the eight Ivy League schools — Cornell and Columbia Universities.
Several factors play into Penn’s presence — or lack thereof — on the two lists, including how the term “tuition” is defined and misconceptions about the real cost of Penn tuition, according to University administrators.
The $51,300 figure for 2008-2009 given on the Admissions web site, which many students think of as the cost of their tuition, is actually the total cost of attendance including books and personal expenses.
But a more accurate measure of Penn’s cost is “total charges” — the sum of tuition, fees, room and board — according to Bonnie Gibson, vice president of the Office of Budget and Management Analysis.
Total charges for the fiscal year 2010 were $49,986, just shy of the minimum for The Chronicle’s list.
Gibson added that total charges are different for each individual student and can vary from year to year.
“[Students’] total charges are different depending on what decisions they make about living and dining,” Gibson said.
The availability of financial aid at Penn also affects the true cost of tuition.
“People focus too much on the gross tuition versus the net tuition,” Penn Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli said, emphasizing the difference between the price before and after aid is considered.
In addition to financial aid, Penn’s endowment helps to reduce tuition.
“The tuition price is not really even the cost of providing education because we subsidize the education for everyone with the endowment income,” Gibson said.
Considering Penn’s $5.6-billion endowment, Gibson said, “people look at the size of those endowments and wonder … why do they charge tuition at all?”
But she explained that Penn’s endowment is meant to guarantee the same quality of education to students in the future — not just to spend on students today.
“The whole point of the endowment is to ensure the continuity of an institution,” she said.
Tony Pals, an Annenberg alumnus and the director of public information for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said students’ perceptions about the price of Ivy League universities are often inaccurate.
“The idea that the Ivies are expensive is largely a myth,” he said, comparing them to smaller private colleges which cannot offer large financial-aid packages.
Carnaroli said he does not believe these misconceptions about Penn and other peer institutions’ costs will change in the near future.
However, he added that students do not consider that when tuition, room and board are divided by the number of days a student is on campus, the result is a total cost of about $200 per day.
“For $200 a day, you get education, you get housing, you get fed, you have access to speakers, enrichment and recreation,” he said. “What quality service like that can you get for $200 a day?”
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