To get more knowledge, you go to college.
The importance of getting a degree has never been higher – a tried and true way of boosting earning potential, and competing in a tough job market.
“Investment in a college degree, and the learning that goes along with that college degree, is going to last you a lifetime,” said Bill Sommers, vice president for enrollment management at Shepherd University.
But lately, that investment of a lifetime has a price tag that’s growing and growing. It’s no secret that college tuition has been rising sharply since the 1970’s, and it’s getting harder for students and families to afford it as the years go by.
According to the College Board, the overall cost of going to a private four-year university has increased by 61 percent over the last 20 years (from $27,202 to $43,921). That takes into account rising tuition, fees as well as room and board. At public, four-year universities, it’s even worse – with the overall cost shooting up by 85 percent (from $10,552 to $19,548).
Sommers, who has been in higher education for 25 years, remembers a time when state governments funded public universities through appropriations by about two-thirds the overall cost, and the students split the difference.
“Over the course of the last decade or so, that’s actually flip-flopped,” he explained. “Now, the student pays for about two-thirds and state appropriations or state funding pays for about one-third.”
Like the rest of the country, that fundamental shift is taking its toll on students at colleges in the four-state area. For example, tuition has more than doubled for state residents at Shepherd University over the past two decades (from $2,064 to $4,660), according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.
But out-of-state students have taken the biggest hit, with their tuition more than tripling over that time period ($4,694 to $13,766).
“It was a little scary because I would look at the colleges and I would only see in-state, and be like, ‘oh, that’s not too bad!’” said Serena Seiler, who only applied to out-of-state schools and will be attending George Mason University in the fall. “Then, I’d check it to out-of-state, and it’d be a lot worse.”
To use a private school as a comparison, Hood College in Frederick has doubled its tuition for all of its students over the past 20 years (from $14,110 to $33,620). However, the 1995 tuition at Hood was more than even the current tuition for out-of-state students at Shepherd.
The “sticker shock” of costs at private colleges can sometimes be enough to prevent students from even applying at all.
“I initially was going to apply to Yale,” said Ben Forrest, who is graduating from North Hagerstown High School and will be attending Frostburg State University. “Their tuition alone, and not cost of attendance, was $63,000 a year, which is more than what my entire tuition will be after four years at Frostburg.”
However, experts stress that not every school is the same. Guidance counselors at North Hagerstown encourage their students to keep their options open.
“A lot of times, families get really nervous because obviously, the majority of private schools have a higher price tag,” said Katie Eck, guidance counselor at North Hagerstown. “The one thing to keep in mind is that private schools also have a lot more money in order to give.”
Much of those funds are dealt out through need-based and merit scholarships. Even though parents and students might think their families make too much or too little to qualify for certain awards, counselors advise everyone to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which opens the doors to more opportunities.
“I tell my kids all the time – applying for scholarships is almost like a full-time job, if you do it right, because you’re constantly applying for them,” Eck added. “They think, ‘well, it’s just $200.’ Well, you know, if you get multiple $200 scholarships, that’s books for a year.”
“It really does add up, and it really does help.”
While the costs of college education continue to rise, there is a slight glimmer of hope. According to the College Board, the percentage increase of costs for students at both public and private colleges was smaller from 2010 to 2015, than the increase from the previous five years.
Below is a list of tuition rates and overall costs at four-state area colleges (2014-2015 statistics from U.S. Department of Education):
Blue Ridge Community and Technical College (Martinsburg, WV)
In-State Residents: $336 for tuition, $11,832 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $720 for tuition, $12,216 overall cost
Frederick Community College (Frederick, MD)
In-State Residents: $5,856 for tuition, $15,715 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $7,920 for tuition, $17,779 overall cost
Frostburg State University (Frostburg, MD)
In-State Residents: $5,800 for tuition, $17,876 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $17,092 for tuition, $29,168 overall cost
Hagerstown Community College (Hagerstown, MD)
In-State Residents: $4,128 for tuition, $16,822 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $5,424 for tuition, $18,118 overall cost
Hood College (Frederick, MD)
$33,620 for tuition, $46,930 overall cost
Lord Fairfax Community College (Middletown, VA)
In-State Residents: $3,825 for tuition, $13,429 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $9,123 for tuition, $18,727 overall cost
Penn State Mont Alto (Mont Alto, PA)
In-State Residents: $12,718 for tuition, $25,956 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $19,404 for tuition, $32,642 overall cost
Potomac State College of West Virginia University (Keyser, WV)
In-State Residents: $3,480 for tuition, $12,810 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $9,456 for tuition, $18,786 overall cost
Shenandoah University (Winchester, VA)
$28,998 for tuition, $41,416 overall cost
Shepherd University (Shepherdstown, WV)
In-State Residents: $4,660 for tuition, $16,875 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $13,766 for tuition, $25,981 overall cost
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania (Shippensburg, PA)
In-State Residents: $6,820 for tuition, $21,698 overall cost
Out-of-State Residents: $15,346 for tuition, $30,224 overall cost
Wilson College (Chambersburg, PA)
$23,745 for tuition, $36,180 overall cost