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October 14, 2010 12:16 PM The $60,000 Question

By Daniel Luzer

How much can you pay for college? Remember when $50,000 a year was a lot of money? Now that’s not even surprising. Cost is still going up, a lot, and now $60,000 is right around the corner.

A lot of people were really concerned with the fate of American higher education when the total annual cost of George Washington University hit $50,000 back in 2007. As Julie Westfall wrote in the Washington City Paper:

Last February, GW announced its tuition and required fees plus room and board would cost $50,630 for this year’s freshmen, the class of 2011. It was like the day a barrel of oil hit $50—everyone saw it coming, but seeing the number on paper was stunning.
“When that word came out, you panic a little,” says Michael O’Leary, senior associate director of GW’s admissions office, who’s among those tasked with promoting the university. “You sit down and scratch your head and say, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ And then you move forward.”

And move forward American colleges did. Now the total cost of some American schools is—whoa, how did this happen?—topping $60,000. According to a piece by Kim Clark in U.S. News & World Report:

Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, NY, tells parents that its total cost of attendance for the 2010-11 academic year is $58,332. But that price includes only tuition, fees, room, board, books and personal expenses, not travel to and from campus, or extra health insurance, which students from families covered by out-of-state plans often have to buy. So the total cost of attendance… exceeds $60,000.
Three other New York area colleges, Columbia University, Bard College and New York University, report total costs of attendance in excess of $57,000 this year. If their 2011 prices jump again by the average amount private colleges raised their prices this year—4.5 percent —they could approach the $60,000 threshold next fall.

That’s roughly the price of a new Jaguar, every year.

At this 4.5 percent increase, the total annual cost of schools like NYU will exceed $100,000 in the fall of 2023.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer