Are sticker prices meaningless? Not with this much variation

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Real College Matters

18 February 2020

It’s unusual for me to write about sticker prices, because they so rarely correlate with the bills which ultimately arrive. Just as we love to pay $49 for $139 jeans, so do we relish the opportunity to get a $30K discount off a $75K price tag.

The importance of the sticker price, though, is its role as the starting point, the high-water mark from which the grants, scholarships, work-study, or tuition discounts begin to chip away–assuming there are any.

A little shorthand:
OOS=out-of-state
IS=in-state
COA=cost of attendance=sticker price=typically tuition plus associated costs plus room/board plus books and a couple other numbers.

Below is a sampling of COA figures from public flagship institutions around the country. You’ll have to hover above each column to see which college it represents.

Counter-intuitively, the higher the COA, the less likely a merit discount. But that’s another topic for another day. The lesson for now is pretty simple; some colleges cost twice as much as others for out-of-state students, even within the subset of flagships. Price is almost certainly commensurate with strength in the marketplace, but there are outliers.

See what surprises you, and let me know. Even just in VA, there’s a wide spectrum of price tags. If you are on a mobile device and have trouble seeing the entire chart, try this link instead.