Who Pays the Full Sticker Price for a College Education?

on August 16, 2017

A quarter of college freshmen and 38 percent of all undergraduate students pay the full sticker price for their college education, based on an analysis of data from the 2015 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

 

Students are more likely to pay full price at public colleges, Ivy League colleges and the most selective colleges. Students are less likely to pay full price at southern colleges, small colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and less selective colleges. Higher income students are more likely to pay full price.

 

As this table shows, college students are about twice as likely to pay full price at a public four-year college as they are at a private, non-profit four-year college (28 percent and 13 percent of freshmen, respectively). Undergraduate students are much less likely to receive institutional grants at public, four-year colleges than at private, non-profit four-year colleges. The cost of attendance at a public, four-year college, however, tends to be lower than a private, non-profit four-year college, even with institutional grants reducing the net price.

 

Type of College (Sector)

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Public, four year

28%

39%

53%

Non-profit, four year

13%

23%

20%

For-profit, four year

17%

23%

70%

Public, two year

30%

47%

88%

Non-profit, two year

20%

26%

85%

For-profit, two year

22%

27%

88%

Public < two year

37%

56%

92%

Non-profit < two year

24%

35%

93%

For-Profit < two year

24%

33%

92%

TOTAL

25%

38%

61%


The table demonstrates that college freshmen are less likely to pay full price than all undergraduate students. Many colleges practice front-loading of grants, where freshmen get more grants than upperclassmen.

 

This table shows that students at four-year colleges are less likely to pay full price than students at college that are two years or less, probably because many more students receive institutional grants.

 

Institution Level

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Four year

23%

33%

44%

Two year

28%

45%

88%

< Two year

25%

36%

92%


This table shows that undergraduate students at public colleges are more likely to pay full price than students at private colleges. The reasons differ for private, non-profit colleges and private, for-profit colleges. Private, non-profit colleges give more institutional grants and private, for-profit colleges attract more students who are Federal Pell Grant recipients.

 

Institution Control

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Public

29%

43%

67%

Private, non-profit

14%

23%

25%

Private, for-profit

22%

26%

86%


Although Ivy League institutions have generous no loans financial aid policies, this table shows that undergraduate students at these colleges are more likely to pay full price (48 percent) than students at public, four-year colleges (39 percent) and private, non-profit four-year colleges (23 percent). Ivy League institutions enroll fewer low-income students than other four-year colleges.

 

Ivy League Colleges

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Brown University

55%

51%

55%

Columbia University

48%

43%

49%

Cornell University

51%

45%

54%

Dartmouth College

54%

48%

54%

Harvard University

48%

56%

48%

Princeton University

41%

42%

41%

University of Pennsylvania

53%

46%

53%

Yale University

52%

48%

52%

TOTAL

50%

48%

51%


A similar result applies to the HYPSM colleges, as shown in this table.

 

HYPSM Colleges

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Harvard University

48%

56%

48%

Yale University

52%

48%

52%

Princeton University

41%

42%

41%

Stanford University

50%

38%

50%

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

44%

30%

44%

TOTAL

47%

45%

47%


The next table shows that students at colleges in the south are less likely to pay full price.

 

Census Bureau Regions

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

New England

26%

37%

45%

Middle Atlantic

26%

36%

60%

East North Central

27%

42%

52%

West North Central

22%

40%

48%

South Atlantic

25%

35%

67%

East South Central

18%

33%

55%

West South Central

24%

41%

66%

Mountain

27%

43%

61%

Pacific

29%

39%

70%


Students at HBCUs are about half as likely to pay full price as compared with students at other colleges and universities.

 

HBCU

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Yes

12%

21%

51%

No

25%

38%

61%


This table shows that students who enroll at smaller colleges are less likely to pay full price. This could be a consequence of institution size correlating with institution control. Public colleges tend to be larger than private, non-profit colleges.

 

Institution Size

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Under 1,000

22%

29%

82%

1,000 - 4,999

16%

30%

47%

5,000 - 9,999

25%

41%

60%

10,000 - 19,999

27%

42%

68%

20,000 and above

32%

41%

57%


The most selective colleges have more pricing power than less selective colleges. This table shows that the percentage of undergraduate students who pay full price generally decreases with increasing acceptance rates. The percentage of undergraduate students who pay full price seems to level off at colleges that accept 40 percent or more of applicants.

 

Acceptance Rates

(Selectivity)

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

< 10%

47%

44%

47%

10% to 19%

46%

42%

48%

20% to 29%

40%

36%

52%

30% to 39%

34%

36%

51%

40% to 49%

21%

31%

37%

50% to 59%

24%

32%

43%

60% to 69%

22%

32%

37%

70% to 79%

20%

32%

37%

80% to 89%

22%

35%

42%

90% to 100%

19%

33%

48%


The percentage of undergraduate students who pay full price seems to be highest at the colleges that charge the lowest and highest tuition rates. Mid-price colleges that charge $20,000 to $39,999 in tuition and fees seem to have much fewer students paying full price because these colleges are more likely to award institutional grants.

 

In-State Tuition and Fees

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Less than $10,000

27%

42%

72%

$10,000 to $19,999

28%

34%

47%

$20,000 to $29,999

6%

20%

11%

$30,000 to $39,999

4%

17%

6%

$40,000 to $49,999

27%

30%

28%

$50,000 or more

40%

40%

40%


The percentage of undergraduate students who pay full price, however, decreases as the net price increases because colleges that charge a higher net price are more likely to award students institutional grants as a discount on college costs.

 

Net Price

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Less than $10,000

27%

45%

83%

$10,000 to $19,999

27%

36%

57%

$20,000 to $29,999

19%

25%

45%

$30,000 to $39,999

19%

27%

24%

$40,000 or more

20%

28%

35%


This table shows that high-income students are more likely to pay full price than middle-income students and middle-income students are more likely to pay full price than low-income students. This table is based on data from the 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:12). Low-income students are surprisingly less likely to receive institutional grants than middle and high-income students. They are less likely to pay full price, however, because they receive federal and state grants, as well as private scholarships.

 

AGI (NPSAS:12)

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Less than $50,000

28%

32%

82%

$50,000 to $99,999

56%

54%

77%

$100,000 or more

65%

61%

74%


The next table shows a similar result when the data is restricted to bachelor’s degree programs, so the differences by AGI are not necessarily a reflection of differences in enrollment patterns by income level.

 

Bachelor’s Degree

Programs by AGI

(NPSAS:12)

Percent of

Freshmen Who

Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Pay Full Price

Percent of

Undergraduate Students

Who Receive

No Institutional Grants

Less than $50,000

20%

25%

73%

$50,000 to $99,999

39%

44%

67%

$100,000 or more

48%

51%

65%

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