Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How much does a Catholic college cost?

Well, I’m not supposed to be blogging; I’m supposed to be writing fiction.  But things keep turning up.

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.


Nick D said...

Last year, as a high school senior, I applied to Holy Cross College (a sibling school to University of Notre Dame, so not on the Cardinal Newman list, sadly), where a year cost about $42,000. They offered me a merit-based scholarship of $14,000 per year; however, I don't know what kind of needs-based scholarship I could have received because God has blessed me so that I don't qualify for those.

I also applied to Franciscan University, and they offered me a $9,000/year scholarship. So scholarships seem to be able to cover a large minority of college costs, but some Catholic schools will still, unfortunately, be out of reach for many Catholic families (especially larger families already paying for Catholic grade and high school educations).

Further to be noted is that I did pretty well academically in high school, so my scholarship offers were probably a bit higher than those a more middling student might have received.


Saphira said...

Hi Erin,
Do look into the details of financial aid though. For example TAC does not offer academic scholarships on principle, but they have generous financial aid. They put a cap on the amount of debt you are allowed to accrue as a student, so the ratio of grant to debt is high. I could have paid off my debt in one year, with a very low-paying job, had I not decided to continue on with graduate school. Other colleges have such benefits. I do not consider the cost to be unfair or unrealistic, but many of us cannot afford what college actually costs, so I am endlessly grateful for donors who make such a wonderful thing possible for struggling families.
Rebecca in ID

Red Cardigan said...

Nick, thanks for that! It helps to hear from someone who has recently gone through the application process. What college did you ultimately choose, if you’re willing to share that here?

Rebecca, I know some colleges work really hard to help their undergraduates with tuition costs. I don’t know how much TAC would have offered our girls, though, because one wants to be a teacher and the second is pursuing a graphic arts degree--and TAC is a great books school, so it wouldn’t have been a good fit for either of them. :)

scotch meg said...

We have a ridiculously high income on paper, but also ridiculously high student loans, which must be repaid with after-tax income.

One of our children attended Very Prestigious University, which was a disaster in many ways - but not financially. We were able to work with the financial aid office. The resulting debt was not unmanageable, and would have been less if she had been a freshman two years later.

Two of our children currently attend Private Catholic College. The school's aid packages are not so generous (the school is not as rich), but one child has a large merit scholarship and the other has help from the GI bill.

We are waiting to see what will happen to Number Four. He has the potential to make it through the lottery of Very Presitigious University admissions, the requisite credentials for merit scholarships at Lesser Universities (mind you, I'm calling them such just by virtue of "conventional wisdom"), and, his mother hopes, the wisdom to choose Very Catholic University... but cost is going to have to be an issue.

We'll keep you posted.

Shadowfax said...

Our son applied to seven colleges (most of them Catholic) and was accepted by six of them. In tne end, we told him he needed to go where the money was. Which happened to be a very liberal Catholic college.

So far neither we nor our son have regretted it (and I say this as somebody who graduated from one of those small, uber-orthodox colleges some years ago).

Saphira said...

A ton of TAC grads become teachers...it's one of the favorite career choices. I know a few artists, too. :) I do know that in the case of TAC, for a long time the listed cost was quite a bit below the actual cost, I think because they were afraid of scaring people off. They later began to list the price more in accordance with the actual expenses. The location will make a difference, too--for example, living expenses in CA are roughly twice what they are in ID, so that factors in.
P.S. My girls are looking forward to the next Telmaj book...

Whimsy said...

Catholic colleges never show up on the secular Value College lists. I appreciate my catholic college education, but my kids would have to have scholarships -- or at least high paying majors! -- to justify the expense.

Sheila said...

Sorry to comment on an old post -- I just discovered your blog and am poking around. ;)

I went to Christendom, and I understand why it costs so much and why there's so little aid available. (I had a merit scholarship -- they paid about half of everything my freshman year, and then cut that to a fourth of everything for the next three years .... yeah, talk about bait and switch. My husband had the maximum need-based package -- which I think was 1/3 of the tuition as a grant, 1/3 as a loan, and the remaining 1/3 you were on your own for, with the help of workstudy.) But a couple of things make me mad: first, they don't accept any federal aid. They say it's to keep them free from federal interference, but in reality all the other Catholic colleges accept the FAFSA and it doesn't seem to hurt them at all. And the other thing is, the loans they offer are at a 10% interest rate, and you have to pay them back within six years. When we graduated, we discovered the payments were over $400 a month. It wasn't even close to manageable -- we ended up having our parents help refinance it, which is a burden I had NOT expected to have to put on them.

I just wonder how they can go about lending money at such usurious rates to poor kids (as part of their aid package!) and still sleep at night. Great education, and of course I'm glad to have met my husband there, but sometimes I think, if we'd just gone somewhere else we would be debt free!

Red Cardigan said...

Sheila, your comment raises a really important point. Would you mind if I featured it in a blog post, perhaps early next week? Let me know.