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Is college actually less expensive than we think?
Tuition rates continue to rise. But many private colleges are offering more financial aid than ever.
Americans owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. And yet...
Americans owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. And yet... Thinkstock/Photodisc
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veryone knows that college is really expensive. And with tuition rates continuing to climb, coupled with the broader economy continuing to recover at a somewhat plodding pace, some universities are actually having a tough time attracting new students. A recent survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that enrollments at private colleges outside of the top tier are starting to dip — sometimes by a reported 10 to 20 percent. So how are these schools luring students to campus? With record high financial aid packages. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The jump in aid shows that many colleges are losing pricing power as more families focus on cost and value, with about 65% increasing their discount rate in the fall of 2012. Except for the most exclusive schools, private colleges increasingly are vulnerable to the stagnant wages of many families, deepening student debt, the uncertain job market, growing questions about the value of costly four-year degrees and unfavorable demographics. [Wall Street Journal]

The result of this reported uptick in financial aid suggests that for many students, the true cost of college — though still massively expensive in a global context — isn't quite as daunting as it looks. Here, a few numbers to put it in context:

$43,289
Average cost of tuition, fees, room, board, and books at a private four-year school for the 2012-2013 academic year, according to CNN

45
The average "tuition discount rate" — essentially, the percent difference between what students actually spend and the school's sticker price — in 2012

$23,809
The average cost of tuition, fees, room, board, and books at a private four-year school for the 2012-2013 academic year after this "tuition discount rate" is factored in

$21,900
The extra amount that the typical college graduate earns per year compared to high school graduates, according to the Huffington Post

$1 trillion
Outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. in 2012, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

$26,000
Average student loan debt in the U.S. in 2012

66
American colleges with endowments over $1 billion

$32,012,729,000
The size of Harvard University's endowment in 2011. According to U.S. NewsHarvard has the largest endowment of any U.S. college or university.

$15,000
The endowment of Providence Christian College, the school with the lowest reported endowment in 2011

Carmel Lobello is the business editor at TheWeek.com. Previously, she was an editor at DeathandTaxesMag.com.

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