New College Pricing Information Offered on Education Website

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How much does it really cost to attend college? That’s the question most parents want to know when their children are considering higher education options.

Though the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator has contained estimates for individual colleges for years, a new system of comparing some of the most expensive and most affordable schools debuts online today, a result of mandates in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.

Called the College Affordability and Transparency Center, the new interactive site allows a user to build lists of the schools with the highest, or lowest, tuition and the highest, or lowest, net price among public and private nonprofit and for-profit colleges. Lists can be built for four-year and above schools, two-year schools and less than two-year schools that are public, private nonprofit or for-profit, but the categories of schools can’t be combined.

The private school listed with the highest tuition is Bates College in Maine, weighing in at $51,300. But that price was for the 2009-10 year and actually Bates has an all-inclusive price that covers room and board. So perhaps, the private nonprofit school with the highest tuition is really Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., at $41,968. But then again, those are 2008-09 prices and there is no way to break out the exact tuition for all-inclusive price schools.

 The highest tuition for a for-profit school (four year or above) is Sanford-Brown College in Vienna, Va., (a Washington, D.C. suburb) at $45,628, the price for the 2009-10 year. The highest tuition for a public college is $14,416 for the main campus of Penn State, also a 2009-10 price.

The new site lists only the top 5 percent or the lowest 10 percent in any of the several categories, including the schools with the fastest rising costs.     .

Other functions allow users to build lists based on colleges’ net prices – the price students would actually need to pay out of pocket (theirs or their parents) – again limiting those lists to the top 5 percent and the bottom 10 percent.

A third function aggregates schools that offer a particular career program, showing comparable prices.