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Q&A with Kiplinger's Editor About College Value

A Q&A about Kiplinger's college value reports and students' concerns about the expense of higher education.Kiplingers Personal Finance magazines annual reports on college value among public and private institutionsare among the yearly studies that point to students continued concern about the cost of higher education.

The average annual cost to attend a public school is $17,860, according to The College Board, while average private school total cost is $39,518 a year. Marc Wojno, senior associate editor with Kiplinger's Personal Finance, chatted with us about trends in college costs.

CBN: Why is the value of college such an important topic today?
Wojno: The biggest issue, of course, now, more than ever, is this whole issue about whether a parent should have their child go to college or not. People are seeing that with the unemployment rate very high, the need to find jobs is a priority over investing your finances into a four-year college education. Thats unfortunate, it really is. People are swapping their mortarboard for part-time or low-paying jobs while tackling student debt. At the same time, more people are cost conscious about where they go to school.

CBN: What should people know about college costs?
Despite those high-sticker prices, there are values out there through financial aid, scholarships, and various other resources. Our rankings provide the price after need-based aid, and you see the dramatic shifts in the costs. When you talk about sticker price, for private schools, it is upwards of $50,000 or more a year. When you factor in the cost after need-based aid, prices go down to the lower $30,000 range. Some schools are even lower than that. It gets to a point where it gets competitive with public colleges. It is something that parents as well as students need to figure out when they go to school -- how much will it cost and is that really the best value?

CBN: What are Kiplinger's college value rankings based on?
Fifty-five percent of the rankings are based on qualitative factors such as student/faculty ratios and the four-year graduation rate (as well as the admission rate, percentage of students who return for sophomore year and the student-faculty ratio). But we also look at the cost factor, which makes about 45 percent of the ranking. We do look at the sticker price. We look at the costs after need-based aid, for both in state and out of state. We also look at how students are keeping their debt down. We are looking at how much debt the student would have after they graduate. For a lot of public schools, you see debt figures anywhere from the mid teens to the lower $30,000s. It really is pretty wild.

CBN: How are public schools trying to remain a value?
One thing we found interesting in our reporting is in the state of California (five California public schools landed in its top 20 list, even though tuition has risen 72 percent since 2007-08). It has pretty high sticker prices for out of state, looking in the $50,000 range. Its almost like a private university. Youre in the low $20,000s for in-state students. The UC schools have very generous need-based financial aid programs, as long as you meet the requirements. 44 percent of the incoming class scored 700 on the math portion of the SATs. Thats impressive. Whats more is last fall, California passed Prop 30, which increased the sales tax and raises the income taxes on high-income residents. That help has prevented about $6 billion in cuts to education. Thats even better if youre considering enrolling in a public college in California.

CBN: Some students in college seem so concerned about the mounting debt.
Some students may not be able to rely on their families as much as they used to. Thats a big concern, also the fact that the job market is still struggling. How do you pay back your student loans? The silver lining is more younger people are more conscious of the cost of going to school and how much it means to them and to their families. Some are going to community college and taking those basic courses and hoping they can transfer into the school they choose.

YOUR TURN: What are your thoughts on rankings, and on the sticker price of college these days?