Interesting pricing/demographics stuff in a long article, including:
It’s worth a pause here to explain how college pricing works. Like airline passengers, every student at a given college pays a different price. Colleges list high tuition prices hoping that enough students pay the top price to compensate for those who can pay little or nothing. Depending on the state, needier students will usually pay less at a liberal arts college than they would at a state flagship. It sounds counterintuitive, but choosing a public school to save money is actually a privilege for the affluent. And since the 2008 recession, more well-to-do parents are choosing those schools. To compete, private colleges are then forced to offer merit aid to top students who don’t need the money. Admissions professionals call the tension between giving grants to entice affluent students and using the money to increase diversity with need-based aid the “iron triangle.” And the pressure is a factor for the whole sector: A survey of 405 private nonprofit four-year colleges by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that though the average tuition rate was $38,301, the average amount that first-time freshmen paid was just $18,424.
Ironically, wealthier, more prestigious schools don’t have to give out as much merit aid because they’re more likely to get qualified affluent students willing to pay a premium: Four percent of Hampshire’s new students paid full price in 2017-2018, but at nearby Amherst College, U.S. News’s No. 2-ranked liberal arts college, 34 percent of new students paid the list price of $71,300, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Enrollment experts say that difference has a lot to do with high rank. “As college prices exceed now easily $70,000 a year, parents are scratching their heads going, ‘I don’t think it’s going to be worth it unless my kid is going to go to a school that everyone is bragging about,’ ” says Bob Massa, a former enrollment manager at Johns Hopkins University and Dickinson College who teaches at the University of Southern California’s graduate school of education.