College ranked seventh most expensive

by Taylor Malmsheimer | 10/18/12 10:00pm

With an overall annual price of $57,996, Dartmouth was ranked the country's seventh most expensive college by the college news blog Campus Grotto, climbing six places from last year's report and 35 places since the 2010-2011 school year. The website's sixth annual "Most Expensive Colleges" report aggregated tuition, fees and room and board from colleges' websites in late September. The College's cost is the second highest in the Ivy League, falling just behind fourth-ranked Columbia University.

Economics professor Bruce Sacerdote said that elite private colleges all price in the same market. The national market, not the local market, affects the high price of these institutions, as they compete for commodities such as top faculty and staff and state-of-the-art buildings, according to Sacerdote.

"Even if it were the local market that mattered, the costs of living in the Upper Valley are higher than the U.S. average," Sacerdote said in an email to The Dartmouth.

The College sets its annual student costs at a level that balances the institution's finances with students' education and experiences, according to College spokesperson Justin Anderson. These costs are consistent with peer schools', he said.

Like other Ivy League institutions, Dartmouth gives "highly competitive" financial aid, reducing its net price for students receiving financial aid, Sacerdote said.

This year, the College increased its no-loan policy, expanding it from families with a total household income of $75,000 to those that make $100,000 or less. Dartmouth meets 100 percent of demonstrated need and will spend $80 million on financial aid this year, Anderson said.

Dartmouth, Brown University and Cornell University, are the only Ivy League schools that include loans in their financial aid packages.

Patrick Campbell '15, who receives financial aid, said that loans can disadvantage Dartmouth students when they enter the workforce.

A report by the Project on Student Debt estimates that nationwide, two-thirds of 2011 graduates had an average of $26,600 in student loan debt. Students graduating from New Hampshire institutions were an average of $32,440 in debt, according to the report.

Dartmouth graduates leave the college with an average of $19,000 in debt, according to Anderson.

"Not to say that $19,000 is insignificant because it's not, but we think when we're compared with either the state or the nation, that we're in better shape," Anderson said.

Over half of Dartmouth undergraduates receive financial aid, according to Anderson. The extent of funding devoted to financial aid depends on the endowment's performance and donations to the College, Anderson said.

Dartmouth's endowment earned an investment return of 5.8 percent for the 2012 fiscal year, the highest of the six Ivy League schools that have reported their 2012 data.

Sacerdote said that although this year's endowment returns will not greatly impact the size of distributions from the endowment, projected figures show promise.

"Statistically, it's likely that there will be additional positive double-digit return years in the future, and this will be a real boost to the payout from the endowment and will offset possible future tuition increases," Sacerdote said.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris said that much of the money awarded to students has been donated to the College specifically for financial aid.

Campbell said that even though Dartmouth offered him the best financial aid package, he would still appreciate more financial aid.

"Although they say you can technically afford this much, it's not always the case," Campbell said. "I have a loan from [Dartmouth], but I also had to take out an additional loan on top of that because the contribution they supposed I could pay was not exactly right."

Laskaris said she thinks that there are families who perceive the cost of private higher education to be out of reach.

"One of the things that we try to do when we're in schools and working with community-based organizations is to also help guidance counselors and those that advise students to really appreciate just how affordable Dartmouth can be," Laskaris said.

Students said they do not know exactly how the College allocates its tuition.

"I definitely think Dartmouth has incredible resources, Elena Ridker '16 said. "However, since this is the only school I've been to, I don't know how it compares to other schools and whether the cost can be justified."

Ridker said that Dartmouth's costliness ranking does not surprise her because the College is a prestigious school. The ranking, however, made her contemplate the effects of these costs on the student body's composition.

"It makes you think about whether [the cost] changes the demographic of students at Dartmouth," Ridker said.

Sacerdote said that colleges should focus on improving financial aid and finding ways to slow the growth of tuition costs, but he also said he remains optimistic about the sustainability of higher education.