Does a high price tag mean that a college is good?

Question: Does a high price tag mean that a college is good?

Higher education is a lot like any other consumer product. In general, you get what you pay for. There are exceptions, though. Sometimes a surprising value can be had.

Let's take a look at the situation. This coming fall, the nation's most expensive schools will have student budgets (tuition, room and board, fees, books, and travel) hovering in the mid-thirty- thousand dollar range. That's right--$35,000 or so. That's more than a lot of families make in one year before taxes.

Other situations, such as two-year commuter schools, can be as inexpensive as $5,000 or less per year. That's about 85% less. What's the difference? Can one school be seven times better than another?

My answer to your question, then, is: It depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for the least-expensive route to a professional or technical credential that might very well move you into a skilled area of employment, then the live-at-home-and-commute option may be best for you. If you're looking for a broader, more diversified approach to education, then some variation of the live-away-from-home-on-campus choice makes sense, even though it's more expensive.

Another way to look at expensive schools is that they may well have the financial aid available to bring their net cost much closer to the lower-priced schools than you might imagine. You've heard me say here many times: Get into the best and most expensive school you can. Financial aid is the reason. The more expensive schools usually have more money to give in financial aid, thus making their true cost much lower for families who really need the help.

Try to look at potential colleges without be blinded by their costs. Once you find the right match, the financial details can be, in most cases, worked out.