For instance, I saw the press release for the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College turn up on a lot of blogs and websites. Now, I’m not opposed to Catholic colleges and universities. I put choosing a Catholic college in the “do what works best for your family” box. If your family includes a child who desperately longs to be a combined humanities/theology teacher at a Catholic high school someday, then you’re going to need that Catholic college, because no secular college will be able to tailor the right degree program for that child, just for one example.
But one thing that bugs me about these “best Catholic colleges” lists is that nobody really talks about the cost of a Catholic college or university education. I was interested enough to try to find out, so I started checking the colleges one at a time. Initially I intended to make a list of each college’s average costs, but about halfway through the list I realized two things: one, that some of the colleges make it rather hard to get specific data about how much a degree will cost (for instance, one lists a three or four semester option while another only lists costs per credit hour which would take a lot of calculating to come up with an average dollar amount), and two, there was no way I had enough time.
So in the end I only listed the costs of 14 colleges. And I tried to keep it to “Room/Board/Tuition for a full-time on campus undergraduate,” but even that was a bit tricky, since some colleges bundled various fees into the cost estimates and some did not. Still: this is roughly what a year at each college will cost for a full-time, on campus student for room, board, and tuition--you may have to add mandatory fees as well as variable costs such as books and expenses (and some colleges helpfully estimate that, too, but I’m a big believer in used textbooks and other ways to keep personal expenses down during one’s college years).
Here’s what I came up with:
Aquinas College (Nashville, TN): $28,700
Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.) $27,686
Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, NC): $24,500
Benedictine College (Atchison, Kan.) $29,850
The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.) $54,244
Christendom College (Front Royal, VA): $32,600
The College of Saint Mary Magdalen (Warner, N.H.) $29,200
DeSales University (Center Valley, Penn): $44,112
Franciscan University of Steubenville (Steubenville, Ohio) $32,070
Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, Calif.) $32,450
The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, N.H.) $29,800
University of Dallas (Irving, Tex.) $44,000
Walsh University (North Canton, Ohio) 30,000
Wyoming Catholic College (Lander, Wyo.) 28,150
Keep in mind, these are just estimates. Also I was an English major so my arithmetic might be wrong. But the average cost of a Catholic college or university, based on these schools, is $33,383 a year. I highly doubt that adding the other schools in (if I have time later) will lower that number. So you’re looking at around $120,000 to $130,000 for a four-year degree.
Of course, all of these colleges stress the huge availability of financial aid, which may make a college that seems impossible turn out to work for a particular student. But since the average college student graduating in 2014 will have to pay back about $33,000 in student loan debt, I think that in general it is best when the Catholic college can offer academic and other scholarships and grants before student loans are discussed.
Are the rising costs of college, not only of Catholic colleges but of public colleges and universities as well, sustainable over the long-term? A lot of observers think they aren’t, and that the “college bubble” will one day burst like the real estate bubble did. Given that the medial US household income is just above $51,000 a year and has remained stagnant while the costs of an education continue to skyrocket, I think those observers may be right.