Princeton may not have the best football team or even be bowl eligible, but as with many Ivies, its college grads leave school with lower student debt than those attending a top-tier public university.
"Despite popular belief that an Ivy League school is really expensive or that a liberal arts school is more expensive, it's the opposite, because there's an element of support that comes with those institutions," said Stephen Dash, founder and CEO of Credible, a student debt refinance resource site.
Some schools are better at assisting students financially than others.
While the sticker price at Princeton University is a steep $45,150 sticker price tuition, many of its students graduate debt free. A mere 17% of Princeton grads leave school with debt.
Those attending the New Jersey-based institution for four-year college carry an average debt of $6,600 – the lowest recorded of any Ivy League or top-tier public institution, according to the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), tracks data on student debt at U.S. colleges.
Other Ivy Leagues ranked similarly to Princeton have students graduating with less debt than the national average of $35,000. According to TICAS, the average debt of an Ivy League grad who finished school in 2013 is $14,853 at Yale, $15,117 at Harvard, $17,171 at Dartmouth, $21,411 at Cornell and $24,300 at Brown.
TICAS does not have student debt data on Columbia University, which experts say has more debt-ridden students who shell out around $51,000 annually in tuition if they're paying full price.
Daniel Macklin, co-founder of SoFi, a fin-tech company based in San Francisco that focuses on refinancing student loans, says Columbia University grads typically refinance a higher amount of student debt than other Ivy Leaguers. An average Columbia grad using SoFi has $72,283 in student loans. For SoFi borrowers who attended Princeton, Macklin says they average around $36,439 in debt – nearly half the debt of a Columbia grad.
“Many schools have great endowments and offer free tuition and zero cost for many people and that's not reflected in the numbers that we see in student loans," Macklin said. "If you don't have student loans, then you're not going to be applying for refinancing."
Contrary to rising sticker prices for tuition, student debt experts say top ranked universities have larger endowments, especially at Ivy Leagues schools to assist students from lower and middle-income backgrounds with financial support.
”Of all the students attending these elite schools, only a quarter are paying the full sticker price,” Dash said.
Public institution are not fairing as well in endowments to assist student financially. In most states, aid to public universities is shrinking over the last eight years.
The Center for Budget Policy Priorities reports 47 states are now spending less per student in 2014 and 2015 than before the start of the recession in 2008. The center also finds that more schools are shifting to spend incoming dollars on administrative costs, reducing financial assistance to more students.
Comparing universities, the typical annual cost of tuition and fees at a public university for the 2014-15 school year was $9,139 for an in-state student and $22,598 for out-of-state students. The average cost of a private university is much higher at $31,231, according to the College Board.
Each year, tuition rates rise. Public and private schools each have their own college inflation rate for adjusting the annual increase in tuition and fees – often raising fees by 2% to 4% each year.
Inflation has risen by around 25% since 2004, but student debt has soared by 56% during the same time period, according to TICAS.
Student refinance experts say the value of attending Ivies, such as Princeton and Harvard, extend beyond paying a reduced sticker price from more plentiful financial aid packages; degrees from these institutions can impact future career earnings.
Credible Insights, launched by student finance education site Credible, finds that Ivy League college grads benefit the most when it comes to student debt and that value continues in early and mid-career salaries.
Students completing a four-year degree at a top national university, such as Harvard or even a top public institution like University of California at Berkeley, can expect near the six-figure mark for their mid-career salary, Credible Insights finds.
“If you can get into an Ivy League school, the data says that's great and that you're going to get a [good] return on your investment," Dash, the Credible founder said, advising tuition should be looked at in terms of a rate of return with projected career salary. “You want to stride to be attend the best possible institution that you can.”