Sticker Shock: The Cost of College

Sticker Shock: The Cost of College

Each year, high school seniors begin the search and enrollment process of getting into college. Even in Loudoun, with its high median household income, sticker shock for parents is still apparent.

The average cost of tuition and fees at four-year colleges in Virginia increased about 2 percent this year to $12,820 from 2016-17, according to the New York-based nonprofit College Board. While that doesn’t seem like much, the increase in the past decade has been some 56 percent. Moreover, the tuition at Virginia in-state public universities  is about 28 percent higher than the national average.

Private colleges cost significantly more, including $53,435 for tuition for full-time students at George Washington University, which has a 122-acre science and technology campus in Ashburn that formed in 1991.

If students live on campus rather than at home, the cost of room and board drives costs up even more.

Offsetting what can be an intimidating price tag are grants, scholarships, loans, work-study programs and other funding sources. While the net increases in what students pay raise particular concerns for low- and moderate-income students, those university attendees often receive enough in grants to cover tuition and fees, said Jennifer Ma, a senior policy research scientist at the College Board.

However, the aid often does not cover room, board and other expenses. “They frequently struggle to pay for their living expenses while in college,” Ma said.

Full-time public students nationally this school year received an average of $5,830 in state schools and $20,210 in private colleges in aid and tax benefits, as most universities have increased their aid packages. To qualify for most federal aid programs, students have to fill out an online form called Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Community, business and educational organizations offer students scholarships. Among those is Beat the Odds, a nonprofit affiliated with the Loudoun County Bar Association. Students who have overcome hardships that include domestic violence and poverty while maintaining a strong academic record have received awards of as much as $10,000.

NOVA Enrollment Rises

A growing number of students are choosing to live at home for their first year or two and enroll at Northern Virginia Community College, which has a 93-acre campus in Sterling. They can either earn a two-year associate’s degree, one-year certificate, or transfer to a four-year institution.

For the fall 2017 semester, the Loudoun NOVA campus attracted almost 14,000 students, some 5 percent more than a year earlier. The tuition was $168.15 per credit hour for Virginia residents, the lowest by far of any area college. For a full-time student, that cost would be less than half of the statewide average.

NOVA’s tuition rate rose about 3 percent from 2016, the same as in the previous year. The State Board for Community Colleges will decide tuition rates for next year in May, said Raytevia Evans, a NOVA spokesperson.

Among the programs offered at NOVA are music recording technology and veterinary technology and horticulture. The college and Amazon Web Services recently started a new apprenticeship program to train veterans for associate cloud consultant positions, which will include on-the-job training at Amazon’s Herndon facilities.

Cloud support is “a high-demand” technical job, said Ardine Williams, vice president of human resources at Amazon. In October, there were some 23,000 job postings in the tech sector in Northern Virginia.

Another university with a Loudoun site is George Mason, which has its main campus in Fairfax but offers a satellite location at NOVA’s Sterling campus with courses in areas like nursing, business and technology. The public university’s tuition this year was almost $12,000.

Patrick Henry College, a private, Christian-oriented institution founded in 2000 in Purcellville, costs $1,163 per credit hour, according to its website. That is about $14,000 per semester for a full-time student. Shenandoah University, a private college with its main campus in Winchester and a graduate hub in Lansdowne, costs slightly more at $15,350 per semester, though its part-time rate is lower.

There is a big difference for those living out of state. Virginia Tech, a public university with an equine medical center in Leesburg and main campus in Blacksburg, costs roughly $13,000 for tuition for state residents and $31,000 for those living outside Virginia. Tuition at other public colleges, including VCU in Richmond and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, carries a similar cost.

Another lower-cost option is Strayer University, an accredited private institution that started more than a century ago as a business college. Based in Herndon, Strayer has a campus in Ashburn among its more than 70 campuses nationwide. Tuition for undergraduate students this fall was $1,450 per course, or about $7,250 per semester for full-time students taking five courses.

There are also specialty colleges like the Art Institute [$486 per credit] and Virginia International University [$392].

The Loudoun campus of NOVA saw enrollment rise about 5 percent in the fall semester. [Kevin Shay photo]

College Costs 2017/18

InstituteTypeIn-State Tuition*
Northern VA CCPublic$5,045
George MasonPublic$11,924
Virginia TechPublic$13,230
University of VirginiaPublic$13,348
VCUPublic$13,624
Strayer UniversityPrivate$14,500
Patrick Henry CollegePrivate$27,922
Shenandoah UniversityPrivate$30,700
George WashingtonPrivate$53,435
* Figure is cost per year based on full-time undergraduate students taking five courses each semester. The figure is not offset for grants, scholarships, loans and other aid. SOURCES: Individual colleges